The world didn’t need a Facebook whistleblower to realize how toxic Facebook is. But that’s what Frances Haugen did in the past few weeks. The former Facebook employee leaked internal documents that show Facebook was aware of how unsafe its social products can be, including Facebook and Instagram. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg only reacted publicly to Haugen after she had already testified to Congress, choosing to deny her claims. That’s despite the fact they were based on a massive amount of internal Facebook data. Zuckerberg’s carefully crafted words can’t magically fix Facebook’s reputation. Years of scandals around safety and privacy have tarnished the company name. The only way forward for Facebook (the company) is to change the company name under which Facebook (the social network) operates. But that won’t fix its toxicity problem.
Facebook’s track record
Whistleblower revelations aside, it’s not like Facebook had an unblemished name. Facebook had to face a few rough years since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 revealed how spies and organizations could have taken advantage of the social network’s features to impact the US presidential election.
Since then, we learned about Facebook’s role in the Myanmar crisis, and we witnessed how the company’s muted reaction to hacks that impacted millions of people. More recently, Facebook fought fiercely against strong privacy. It protested vehemently against Apple’s new privacy features for iPhone and iPad. It then forced WhatsApp users to agree to a controversial privacy change that allowed Facebook to collect more user data.
Haugen’s revelations are just the cherry on top. Facebook might try to deny everything for as long as it wants. And even if Haugen’s claims are entirely fabricated, Facebook’s own record further hurts the company’s credibility right now.
That’s not to say that Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp aren’t valuable services. Billions of people rely on these social networks to keep in touch with family and friends. But many people are well aware of Facebook’s bad name. It’s why millions of people flocked to Signal and Telegram in the early days of the WhatsApp privacy scandal.
Facebook’s new name
Facebook plans to start healing its brand problem by going for the simplest possible fix. The company will change its name, according to The Verge. A possible alternative is Horizon, although that’s just speculation:
I’m told that the new Facebook company name is a closely-guarded secret within its walls and not known widely, even among its full senior leadership. A possible name could have something to do with Horizon, the name of the still-unreleased VR version of Facebook-meets-Roblox that the company has been developing for the past few years. The name of that app was recently tweaked to Horizon Worlds shortly after Facebook demoed a version for workplace collaboration called Horizon Workrooms.
Zuckerberg might unveil the new name at the Connect conference on October 28th. The new company will probably become the mothership to all of Facebook’s current properties, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.
We saw this happen before, and Google is the most recent example. Google is now a subsidiary of Alphabet, which manages all of the projects that were under Google before. Google changed the structure of its company out of necessity. Search might be the primary money-maker for the company, but Alphabet moved well beyond Search.
Building the metaverse
The same goes for Facebook. Facebook (the company) needs a new name. Zuckerberg and Co. are already working on several initiatives for the future of the internet, where Facebook (the social network) will probably still play a significant role. It should continue to bankroll the new company’s projects just like Google does with Alphabet. Those projects include a massive pivot towards AR/VR, which includes the so-called “metaverse” that Facebook is building.
But Facebook’s name change will not resemble Google. Facebook has to do it amid massive controversy. And it will look like a reaction to all the bad publicity in recent years, especially Haugen’s claims. Google never had to deal with that PR mess when it transitioned to Alphabet.
That’s why changing the Facebook name to something else won’t fix the Facebook toxicity. The only way to do that is to actually follow up with immediate changes that will show customers that Facebook/Horizon really wants to make Facebook and Instagram safe places for users. And you can’t build up metaverses of any kind unless you fix those issues. Otherwise, the new name will just inherit Facebook’s bad reputation.