Facebook’s new name: grandiose, banal or honest?

If the classics don’t appeal, Zuckerberg could focus on something that makes Facebook, at the margins, harder to dislik

  
A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020.

A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

(The authors is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Facebook’s new name – to be revealed next week, according to The Verge – is best thought of as a statement of intent. Whether silly or dull, it will give a sense of how co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wants the $959 billion group and its eponymous social network to be viewed by users, investors and regulators. There are three directions he could take: grandiose, banal or honest.

From the first category, how about Byzantium Zuckerberg has a fascination with the emperor Augustus, who ushered in two centuries of world peace. Rome’s eastern branch endured for a millennium after its precursor fell, helmed by absolute rulers, just as Zuckerberg is Facebook’s chairman, chief executive and majority vote-wielder. Surrounded by powerful enemies, the empire relied on cultural influence, and when that didn’t work, astounding wealth to pay them off. Facebook, for its part, has paid numerous fines yet still sports a $64 billion cash pile.

If the classics don’t appeal, Zuckerberg could focus on something that makes Facebook, at the margins, harder to dislike. Between Brussels and Washington, political opponents have variously proposed breaking the company up and stripping it of legal protections, both of which are existential threats. A more anodyne, likeable name could help – say, Sunshine. At the very least, it’s hard to say in anger. Imagine tech-bashing Senator Elizabeth Warren arguing that “Sunshine is a disinformation-for-profit machine.” Or President Joe Biden claiming that “Sunshine is killing people.” 

Finally, there’s the most honest approach: call the whole thing Instagram. The photo-sharing app Zuckerberg bought in 2012 for $1 billion is now probably Facebook’s most valuable division. Instagram, with its appeal to the 18-35 year age demographic, makes up around one-third of the group’s advertising revenue, eMarketer estimates, but is certainly worth more on a dollar-of-income basis than the Facebook network. Youth-focused social network Snap trades at 20 times its revenue, according to Refinitiv, whereas Facebook overall trades at around 6 times sales.

That kind of realistic branding is probably the last thing Zuckerberg wants – other things aside, Instagram’s growing size, and impact on young users’ mental wellbeing, could soon make it as vilified as the Facebook network itself. With his desire to create what he calls a metaverse, grandiose might be his tendency. Practically speaking, though, blandness is probably the best bet.

CONTEXT NEWS

- Facebook is planning to announce a new name for the company on Oct. 28, though the company could unveil it sooner, the Verge reported on Oct. 20. The change is meant to reflect the company’s move from social media toward what Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed the metaverse in which experiences in the physical and virtual worlds are combined.

- The new company would house Facebook's collection of businesses including the Facebook social network, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus.

(The authors is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own.)

(Editing by Richard Beales and Amanda Gomez) ((SIGN UP FOR BREAKINGVIEWS EMAIL ALERTS https://bit.ly/BVsubscribe |))


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