Could a New Name Help Facebook After All?
New name, better fortunes?Credit…Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Facebook’s new name
Yesterday, Facebook announced it would rebrand itself as Meta. The company will begin trading under the ticker MVRS on Dec. 1. It’s a clear move by the founder Mark Zuckerberg to de-emphasize the company’s most successful product and reorient itself around a vision of a virtual-reality enabled future that Meta’s own executives admit, based on today’s technology, can’t yet exist.
It also comes as Zuckerberg and his company are under intense scrutiny over leaked documents that show the company was aware of the societal damage its products have caused. Some say the name change is an effort to leave behind what is wrong with Facebook without making substantial changes. DealBook turned to our colleague Shira Ovide, the writer of The Times’s newsletter On Tech, for her thoughts on the meaning of Meta.
I can understand what Mark Zuckerberg is trying to do, and it’s not just window dressing. There are three good things the name change does for him and his company:
It is a signal, to people inside and outside, that Zuckerberg means it when he says this is the next phase for the company. He’s been talking about it for years, but just without the metaverse-linked name, for as long as Facebook has owned Oculus and maybe longer. The name change is Zuckerberg saying, “No, really, I am serious.”
It is smart from an investor-facing perspective. Reorganizing the company and creating Facebook Reality Labs to house its profit-draining virtual reality investments is useful for Wall Street. It was the same for Alphabet: It let Google’s parent put the wildly speculative and unprofitable parts of the company in a “here be dragons” portion of the P&L. Alphabet’s moonshots haven’t quite hit the moon, but the structure has worked for the company. Alphabet is worth $1.5 trillion more now than when it was formally called Google, but of course that’s about a lot more than just the name change.
It gives Zuckerberg more control over Facebook’s — sorry, Meta’s — future. What Zuckerberg said at the unveiling yesterday is that Facebook has been under the thumb of smartphone developers, mostly Apple, but also Google. The social networking giant has lost some of its authority over the products it creates. Now, it is building a world that it controls. It is the operating system.
I am reluctant to say that Zuckerberg’s vision of the future, where we all learn and shop and live in some virtual world that Facebook controls, is not going to happen. Can Facebook will it into being? Maybe. Zuckerberg has been right about the future before. Is it a good thing for the world if he is right and this is a thing that Facebook designs and controls? That’s another question.
The metaverse is Mark Zuckerberg’s escape hatch
Facebook’s name change reflects a common corporate tactic
A Canadian materials company named Meta saw its shares spike after the Facebook rebrand
Sign up here for the On Tech newsletter to hear more from Shira, three times a week.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Liberals deal President Biden’s agenda another setback. House progressives rejected a personal entreaty by Biden to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. They wanted assurances — so far unforthcoming — that the moderate senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema would back a separate $1.85 trillion social and climate spending bill that had already been whittled down from $3.5 trillion.
A day of disappointing tech-giant earnings. Amazon reported its slowest sales growth in nearly seven years, as a pandemic-fueled surge in online shopping abated, while Apple’s revenue fell short of expectations, as supply-chain shortages cost it $6 billion in sales. Both companies predicted little improvement in the near term, citing shortages of workers and components.
Citigroup mandates coronavirus vaccines. The bank became the first on Wall Street to require U.S. employees to get inoculated as a condition of employment, citing both Biden’s order requiring vaccinations for government contractors and the need to ensure employees’ health and safety. Meanwhile, New York City is bracing for a wave of unvaccinated workers being put on unpaid leave as an inoculation deadline looms.
Evergrande averts default for the second time. The debt-burdened Chinese property developer made an interest payment that was due on Sept. 29, just inside a 30-day grace period. But creditors say they’re still in the dark about what the company is up to.
Shell rejects Dan Loeb’s pitch to break itself up. Executives of the oil giant said during an earnings call yesterday that splitting itself into a legacy oil and gas company and a renewables producer didn’t make sense. Shell got help from one of its top shareholders, the investment firm Abrdn, which said Loeb’s proposal was unfeasible.
Biden’s electric car subsidy provides a bonus for unions
Among the provisions that made it into the president’s proposed $1.85 trillion spending plan is one of most pro-union pieces of legislation since the days of F.D.R. The proposal would allow automakers to offer a $4,500 tax credit, on top of other credits, to buyers of electric vehicles that are made in the U.S. with union labor. That excludes most foreign car manufacturers, who opposed the bill, because most do not use union labor at their American assembly plants.
The tax credit also excludes Tesla, the biggest maker of electric cars in the U.S. The relationship between Biden and Tesla’s Elon Musk has been icy. Musk said that he wasn’t invited to a recent White House meeting on electric vehicles, despite the fact that non-unionized Tesla, at least for now, is the most important player in the country’s electric car market. In the first half of the year, two-thirds of all new electric vehicles registered in the U.S. were Teslas.
Does it matter? Teslas are clearly popular, and investors believe they will stay that way: The company just became one of the few companies valued at more than $1 trillion. Would a $4,500 tax credit be enough to make a difference to sales of Tesla’s pricier models?
The provision raises important questions about policy priorities, which are playing out in many aspects of the president’s sweeping plans for infrastructure, the social safety net, the environment and more. Biden aims for half of new car sales to be electric by 2030, up from just 2 percent last year. Is the union-linked subsidy the right policy to achieve climate goals, or is it more about promoting certain kinds of jobs? Is it intended to support Detroit automakers or to create more competition for Tesla? All of the above?
“God bless Chevron.”
— Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, during a six-hour congressional hearing with the leaders of the four major oil companies.
The energy executives acknowledged that the burning of their products was driving climate change, but also told lawmakers that fossil fuels were not about to disappear. Democrats hoped to put the C.E.O.s on the spot (under oath) about their companies’ role in global warming, while Republicans, like Jordan, questioned the premise of the hearing and said the executives should be thanked for providing energy to homes and businesses over the decades.
Weekend reading: Burn unit
Around the world, stress has run high during the pandemic, and even workers known for their drive, like junior bankers, have ignited debates about burnout. As the economy recovers, companies are wrestling with how to attract and retain employees while maintaining productivity in a world upheaved.
DealBook spoke with Jennifer Moss, who is on the Global Happiness Council, a group of scientists and economists supporting the U.N.’s well-being goals, about her new book, “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.” The interview has been edited and condensed.
Understand the Facebook Papers
A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents by a former Facebook employee has provided an intimate look at the operations of the secretive social media company and renewed calls for better regulations of the company’s wide reach into the lives of its users.
How it began. In September, The Wall Street Journal published The Facebook Files, a series of reports based on leaked documents. The series exposed evidence that Facebook, which on Oct. 28 assumed the corporate name of Meta, knew Instagram, one of its products was worsening body-image issues among teenagers.
The whistle-blower. During an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Oct. 3, Frances Haugen, a Facebook product manager who left the company in May, revealed that she was responsible for the leak of those internal documents.
Ms. Haugen’s testimony in Congress. On Oct. 5, Ms. Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee, saying that Facebook was willing to use hateful and harmful content on its site to keep users coming back. Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, called her accusations untrue.
The Facebook Papers. Ms. Haugen also filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided the documents to Congress in redacted form. A congressional staff member then supplied the documents, known as the Facebook Papers, to several news organizations, including The New York Times.
New revelations. Documents from the Facebook Papers show the degree to which Facebook knew of extremist groups on its site trying to polarize American voters before the election. They also reveal that internal researchers had repeatedly determined how Facebook’s key features amplified toxic content on the platform.
What causes burnout?
We’re reacting to overwhelming circumstances, so we’re in constant fight-or-flight mode, and it taxes us. There are different sources causing this pressure — systemic issues, lack of fairness rooted in societal or organizational problems — and that is bigger than any individual. And then there is overwork, either by economic necessity or in environments where people are passionate and trying to prove themselves at all costs.
What is going on in the work force now?
Burnout is not new, but the pandemic has exacerbated it. People are exhausted and disengaged. They feel alienated. We’ve never seen a more cynical group of workers, and it’s across the spectrum. It’s true for essential workers — nurses, police and firefighters — and lawyers and investment bankers. And it’s manifesting in a mass exodus of employees.
Is burnout a personal problem?
No! It is a workplace problem. Managers play a huge role in operations and inefficiencies that create stress. That’s beginning to be understood. Before, employers wanted to keep people at work with perks — yoga, laundry, meals. But deep breathing won’t make people feel better if no one is paying attention to much more fundamental things like communication.
Is there a fix?
Societal solutions might be mandating paid leave or passing laws recognizing a worker’s right not to be online at all hours, as exists in France. At the organizational level, leaders are responsible and there are a lot of things they can do — check in, ask questions and recognize boundaries because inattention can lead to catastrophic impacts for everyone.
THE SPEED READ
The investment vehicle of Italy’s Agnelli family reached a new deal to sell the reinsurer PartnerRe to Covea for $9 billion, after a prior agreement collapsed because of the pandemic. (WSJ)
Coke is said to be near a deal to buy a majority stake in the sports drink maker BodyArmor at an $8 billion valuation. (Bloomberg)
Zendesk agreed to buy the parent company of the polling business SurveyMonkey for $4 billion. (Bloomberg)
David Bowie’s songwriting catalog has reportedly drawn takeover bids of about $200 million. (FT)
T. Rowe Price is pushing further into alternative investments with a $4.2 billion acquisition of Oak Hill Advisors. (Reuters)
A Senate committee approved Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, sending his nomination for a final vote. (NYT)
The brother-in-law of Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, began dumping his stock holdings one minute after speaking with the senator last February, according to the S.E.C. (ProPublica)
Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, introduced a bill to protect “payment for order flow,” the oft-criticized practice through which market makers pay brokers for processing customer trades. (Insider)
Best of the rest
“Who Are America’s Billionaires, Anyway?” (NYT)
Starbucks employees in upstate New York will be allowed to vote on forming a union next month. (NYT)
The head of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was conspicuously absent from the kingdom’s big financial conference this week. (NYT)
Charlie Munger’s effort to play both donor and architect is stirring unrest at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Santa Barbara Independent)
Rupert Murdoch celebrated his 90th birthday in New York City last night, and — of course — the “Succession” theme played during a movie about his life. (Insider)
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