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Facebook is reportedly considering a bold new rebranding as its reputation is under siege, and antitrust regulators are circling

October 20, 2021, 8:59 AM UTC

FaceSpace? MetaBook? FaceVerse? FCBK? ZuckFace? Facebook—the company, as opposed to the service—is reportedly heading for a rebrand, and the social media wags are out in force.

But while The Verge’s scoop about next week’s name change provides natural fodder for hilarity, and while the reported motivation lies in Facebook’s big “metaverse” reorientation, it also reflects just how dire the last couple of years have been for Facebook and its reputation.

Rewind to mid-2019, when the company started plastering “from FACEBOOK” on the log-in screens for its other products, and the strategy was clearly one of proud ownership under the Facebook banner. At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was reportedly frustrated that Facebook wasn’t getting enough credit for growing key acquisitions such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Shouting the Facebook name loudly and proudly also reflected work going on behind the scenes to unify the various apps’ messaging systems.

Interestingly, the company considered changing its corporate identity back then, and decided not to. “We had to consider all options but decided that it was important to keep the company name,” chief marketing officer Antonio Lucio told TechCrunch’s Josh Constine in November 2019.

“We always have been and will continue to be Facebook,” Lucio continued. “It was important to retain the company’s name in order to own what we stand for, the decisions we make, our responsibility to people, and how our brands relate to each other.”

Bear in mind that this was already after the Cambridge Analytica scandal had broken, and after former executives such as founding president Sean Parker and user-growth chief Chamath Palihapitiya had taken to accusing the company of things like “destroying how society works.” It was even after Facebook admitted having been too slow to stop its platform from being used as a tool of genocide in Myanmar.

But the company’s reputation has continued to take a battering since then, in ways that may seem more relevant to Facebook’s wider user base. This year, whistleblowers Sophie Zhang and Frances Haugen have laid serious allegations at the company’s door. Data scientist Zhang accused her former employer of failing to stop “blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry,” while product manager Haugen said the “morally bankrupt” firm was harming children’s mental health for profit, particularly on the Instagram platform. Social media’s polarizing effects are apparent to regular users, as is its role in lethal vaccine disinformation.

Regulators circling

There are other reasons why Facebook might want to take its toxic name off its other properties, the most urgent being the heavy scrutiny of antitrust authorities and lawmakers.

In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to break Facebook up into its constituent parts, on the basis that Facebook has abused its market-dominating position. In Europe, antitrust regulators have stepped in to review Facebook’s proposed acquisition of a New York–based customer relationship management startup called Kustomer, because they don’t want Facebook to keep buying up and killing potential rivals. Facebook changing its name wouldn’t take the heat off, of course, but it could at least denote a less defiant stance.

“Of course, a name change can help a company move past a crisis,” said Jody Hudson-Powell, a partner at the London and New York–based design and brand consultancy Pentagram. “However, a simple change for these giants wouldn’t change much. They’d be hiding in plain sight.”

Of course, it could be that Zuckerberg really is so all-in on the idea of the “metaverse”—the “next generation of the Internet and next chapter for us as a company,” as he has called it—that he sees the Facebook brand as becoming part of the company’s legacy. There is certainly other evidence for this bullishness, with Facebook saying Sunday that it will hire 10,000 people in Europe to build the online world over the next five years. (That the firm is promising so many high-skilled jobs in a jurisdiction where lawmakers are currently considering multiple crackdowns on Big Tech must surely be coincidental.)

But even if the metaverse does explain the rebranding, there is reason to be cautious about its impact. When Google introduced its Alphabet parent brand in 2015, then-CEO Larry Page enthused about “getting more ambitious things done” and “taking the long-term view.” Six years later, Alphabet is still essentially a very successful ad company with various research initiatives tacked on. And although the parent brand was never supposed to be consumer-facing, most people still refer to the entire company as Google.

Facebook’s ventures outside social media and messaging have so far borne little fruit. It abandoned its Internet-drone project in 2018, and its attempts to become a cryptocurrency player keep getting scaled back. Its Oculus virtual reality gaming headset business remains niche. Maybe the metaverse will change all that—or maybe Facebook will remain tied to the identity of its increasingly unpopular core product.

Yvonne Lau contributed reporting to this article.

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