Facebook’s rebranding as Meta is seen by many as the company’s latest attempt at corporate crisis control. The social media giant has been publicly attacked for creating an environment that promotes far-right extremism and violates the data privacy of individuals.
Yet it also represents an effort to rebrand the growing power of technological monopolies to shape all areas of our lives through social expansion. It points to a disturbing new era of “metacapitalism” – or “capitalism on steroids” as Forbes called it in 2000. This reflects a disturbing trend of the massive expansion of technical knowledge and the dangerous privatization of technical knowledge.
rebranding tech monopoly
Technology is rapidly transforming our world – from instantaneous digital communication to AI decision making to virtual and augmented reality. The driving force behind these changes are private technology firms, whether global start-ups or well-known Silicon Valley conglomerates. But this combination of massive corporate profits and exciting technological innovations is the biggest myth of 21st century progress.
The truth is much more complicated. Huge technology firms such as Google and Facebook are being criticized for unethical data collection and use of algorithms that encourage hateful beliefs and viral misinformation.
Their technology has also encouraged unjust labor practices, including high-tech digital surveillance to monitor workers, as has happened at Amazon’s warehouses, and facilitated digital platforms such as Uber, which go beyond providing basic worker rights. Deny.
For a long time, the mining of rare earth metals and the enormous amounts of energy required for data processing have been major contributors to climate change.
These problems point to the danger of capitalist technological monopolies, where, according to theorist Neil Postman, culture “seeks its authority in technology, finds its satisfaction in technology, and takes its orders from technology”. Microsoft and Google have already been accused of monopolistic practices.
These “little tyrants” are harassing “techies” who actually use their power and influence to suppress innovation and competition, using the traditional practices of the old economy.
Perhaps even more troubling is how these companies distance innovation from its potential for social good. Beneath the myth of Silicon Valley’s prosperity lies the attempts by big tech to expand its economic reach and political power to foster corporate elites and even authoritarian regimes.
The highly publicized naming of these groups is part of a wider rebranding of this technology. As one commenter recently observed, “Facebook’s new name is ‘Meta,’ and its new mission is to invent a ‘Metaverse’ that will make us all forget what it’s done to our current reality. ” It may have a different name, but it is the same economic, political and social corporate threat.
spread of metacapitalism
In his video announcement, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declared this debut of the Metaverse as a sign of a new technological age, giving viewers a glimpse into a virtual world where people interact with others in real time at their wildest. One can use avatars to live the fantasy. Worldwide.
The response has ranged from moral outrage at Facebook to ridiculing Zuckerberg’s new vision for technology. What is overlooked is that it represents a desire to create metacapitalism – one that uses technology to shape, exploit and profit from human interaction. It is a fully marketed virtual reality world driven by the continued exploitation of natural resources, unjust global working conditions and the constant invasion of users’ data privacy for personal financial gain.
Corporate and social rebranding are fundamental to the spread of metacapitalism. Google’s 2015 name change to “Alphabet” reflects its desire to be more than just a search engine and expand into other areas such as driverless cars, medical devices, smart home devices and drone delivery. Introducing the Metaverse, Zuckerberg said:
Think about how many physical things you have today that may just be holograms in the future. Your TV, your perfect work set-up with multiple monitors, your board games and more – instead of physical things assembled in factories, they’ll be holograms designed by creators around the world.
He once again insisted, “We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services”.
These moves play into a broader strategy to positively rebrand social metacapitalism. The introduction of the metaverse is part of a new trend that business ethics academic Carl Rhodes has referred to as “awakening capitalism”, noting in a recent article that “progressive gestures from big business are not just useless – they are dangerous”
Whether the Gates Foundation is initially opposing the spread of global vaccines to protect patent rights, or Elon Musk is promising to build a “multi-planet civilization” – while avoiding paying much-needed taxes here on Earth – Corporations are now increasingly using philanthropy and utopia to hide their current misdeeds.
a force for good
Ironically, technology could actually become a real force for radical social and economic change if it were freed from the narrow limits imposed on it by metacapitalism.
Digital platforms are already enabling greater cooperative ownership and direct democratic participation. Big data can be deployed to allow efficient energy use through better tracking of energy consumption. It also allows community ownership of our information and economy in general. 3D printers have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing so that we can easily and sustainably produce everything we need.
Importantly, open-source technologies that allow their information to be freely available for use, modified and redistributed can foster international collaboration and innovation on a scale previously unimaginable. They point to a realistic and utopian “capitalist-capitalist” future that can overcome the need for exploitation based on the principles of shared development and collective prosperity.
The rebranding of technology companies is not merely cosmetic, it represents a dangerous attempt to monopolize all forms of technology development involving the spread of the metaverse and metacapitalism. What is instead needed is an open-source culture, a genuine discussion about promoting data rights and ownership, and using technology for positive social change – not just selling more products.