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Facebook to rebrand as a metaverse company. What is that? | CBC Radio

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With news that Facebook Inc. is expected to rebrand as a metaverse company, the not-so-novel term has made its way into headlines around the world. Here’s what it means, and how companies are hoping it will hook users.

Facebook Inc., the parent company of social network Facebook and messaging platform WhatsApp, is expected to announce a new name that better reflects its ambitions to build the metaverse. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

9:12Facebook to rebrand as a metaverse company. What is that?

With reports that Facebook Inc. is expected to rebrand as a metaverse company, the not-so-novel term has made its way into headlines around the world. 

Technology news website The Verge reported Tuesday that the company, known for its social network and messaging platforms, will announce a new company name to better reflect its ambitions to build the metaverse. 

The move comes as the California firm faces scrutiny from lawmakers over its platforms’ negative effects on users, spread of misinformation, and monopolistic tendencies. 

“Facebook has plenty of reasons to want us to look at something else,” said Beth Coleman, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology.

But beyond Facebook’s legal challenges, experts say the metaverse could be the next frontier of the social web where companies create new platforms to hook users.

What is the metaverse?

Like many modern technologies, the idea has roots in science fiction. Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash first mentioned the metaverse in 1992, describing it as a shared, virtual space where users can interact.

It isn’t a platform or experience owned by one single company. While it’s often used to describe digital worlds in which users can communicate, play and do business with others, the idea is much broader.

“It’s this kind of catch-all term for anything that seems like it’s something that comes after the mobile internet, which was the thing that came after the desktop internet,” said Adi Robertson, senior reporter for The Verge.

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A man uses a virtual reality (VR) headset. VR technology is expected to be a driving force behind the metaverse, creating immersive experiences for users. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Ramona Pringle, an associate professor at the Ryerson University RTA School of Media, says it’s an idea decades in the making. Virtual spaces inhabited by digital avatars — popularized by the virtual world of Second Life in the 2000s — promised to “take over our lives” long before social networks had users glued to their phones all day long.

The metaverse as it’s now described would be an evolution from that original idea combined with social networking as we know it today, she says. 

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology is expected to a driving force for the virtual worlds by creating immersive experiences for users, and could further blur the lines between real and digital life.

WATCH | Tech reporter says Facebook is on the verge of a massive rebrand:

Tech reporter says Facebook is on the verge of a massive rebrand

The Verge’s senior reporter Alex Heath tells Power & Politics the social media giant is set to undergo a series of changes — including a new company name. 5:31

What will users do there?

Facebook’s vision of the metaverse isn’t too far off from Stephenson’s sci-fi concept. 

The company describes it as a “set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”

But the metaverse will go beyond providing space to chat with new and old avatar-based friends. In the video game worlds of Roblox and Fortnite, early entrants to the metaverse popular among younger players, pop stars have held live concerts and digital goods are traded for in-game currency, for example. 

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“There’s this desire to be more immersive and … an active participant in these virtual experiences because we realize that we’re just going to have to spend a lot more time there and we’re OK with that,” said Annie Zhang, host of the podcast Hello Metaverse and a senior product designer at Roblox.

Zhang predicts a future with economies that transcend the real world — an idea that began years ago in Second Life.  

A child customizes their avatar in the popular game Roblox. The game, which allows players to explore virtual worlds with a unique avatar, has been billed as part of the metaverse. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

She says content creators could use virtual platforms to sell and release new music or videos, freeing some from the constraints of algorithms they say devalue their work. 

Others may turn to virtual worlds to buy and sell “land” or other goods using cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NTF), said Zhang. That’s already happening in Decentraland, a platform that uses the Ethereum blockchain. 

“It’s a product of people not feeling like one they have control or an understanding of systems that they have to participate in,” she said, noting concerns that younger generations will struggle to own property in the real world as one example.

Currently, platforms like Roblox and Fortnite operate as walled gardens, run by the companies that own them. Some imagine a future within the metaverse where users could wander between worlds with a single avatar, carrying goods they’ve created or own from one platform to another.

Why is Facebook getting in on this?

Interest in building the metaverse is likely driven by financial goals and collecting user data for marketing, Pringle says. She expects companies will advertise on metaverse platforms, bringing in revenue for the companies that host them.

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That could make the metaverse “a very compelling, very sticky and very immersive medium for ads” with users “still being targeted by people who want to sell us either products or ideologies,” Pringle said.

A shift toward the metaverse also serves as a rebuke of social media. For users unhappy about how social networks are “splintering society” or impacting users’ mental health, companies are promoting their investments into new kinds of experiences as a way forward, Pringle said. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook Inc.’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, on May 1, 2018. Zuckerberg has spoken publicly about his ambitions to build the metaverse. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Though Facebook’s push into the metaverse comes at the same time it’s under fire, Coleman notes that the company has been laying the groundwork for years.

Facebook purchased Oculus, a startup that builds VR headsets, back in 2014.

After years of what she calls “mediocre” virtual worlds built by various companies, Coleman says the success of the metaverse will ultimately depend on what company releases the “killer app” that users flock to.

Given Facebook Inc.’s success connecting people online — it boasts more than 2.85 billion monthly users on Facebook alone — it could be the company to do just that, she adds.

“If you were going to bet on a horse in terms of who is going to make this important to not just a population, but globally, you’d say that Facebook has a pretty damn good track record.”


Written by Jason Vermes with files from Sameer Chhabra and Reuters.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps

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With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.

As per Meta:

Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”

Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.

“Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”

Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.

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But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.

But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.

Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.

You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.

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Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption

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Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.

Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.

As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.

The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.

Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.

Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.

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Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:

  • Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
  • Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
  • The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
  • More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
  • Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
  • New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action

Meta messaging security options

Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.

That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.

Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.

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Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.

Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.

Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.

But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.

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