British minister criticizes the renaming of Facebook to Meta


This image from October 28, 2021 shows a smartphone with the Facebook logo in front of the new Meta Facebook rebranding logo.

Given Ruvic | Reuters

LONDON – A senior British official has criticized Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, for renaming it and promised to impose criminal penalties on social media bosses under new laws to combat harmful online content.

“Rebranding is not working,” said Nadine Dorries, UK minister for digital, culture, media and sport, the legislature on Thursday at a hearing on the law on online safety. “If damage is done, we will follow up.”

Meta wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC, but said the rebranding is focused on its efforts to create something called a “metaverse”.

Facebook changed its name to Meta last week, which has been criticized by some as an attempt to divert focus from its recent troubles.

The company is facing one of its biggest crises in recent history after a series of revelations from a former employee turned whistleblower. One of the most notable is that the company was aware of the harmful effects its Instagram app had on teenagers.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen appeared in the UK Parliament last month, telling lawmakers that regulators have “little window of opportunity” to crack down on the spread of hate speech and other harmful content on Facebook.

Meta says that the name change is about a linchpin for the so-called “Metaverse”, a kind of shared virtual reality in which several users can interact with each other as avatars. The company recently announced it would hire 10,000 engineers across the European Union to help in its metaverse efforts.

Dorries said Meta should put these additional employees in charge of “complying with your terms and conditions and removing your malicious algorithms”.

The UK government is moving ahead with major reforms that would hold social media companies accountable for sharing harmful and illegal content on their platforms. Failure to comply with the law threatens fines of up to 10% of annual global sales or £ 18 million ($ 24.2 million), whichever is greater.

According to the draft proposals, social media company executives could face criminal prosecution within two years if they fail to eradicate toxic material. Dorries, however, vowed to hasten criminal penalties.

“It won’t be two years,” she said. “I’m waiting for three to six months for criminal liability.”

The bill is currently under review by a policy committee led by Damian Collins, a legislator who held Facebook accountable in 2018 for the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. Dorries on Thursday called on the committee to forward its recommendations to the government as soon as possible.

Tech giants have said they embrace regulation and are investing heavily in improving security on their platforms. Meta says it, in turn, has 40,000 employees who work specifically on platform security.

Dorries, who are probably better known to the British for their appearance on the reality TV show “I’m a Celebrity … Holt Me Out of Here!” .

She has been sharpening her rhetoric over the past few weeks about curbing big tech companies and calling for an end to online abuse by anonymous trolls following the murder of British lawmaker David Amess. Some MPs from the ruling Conservative Party believe that anonymity on social media platforms contributed to Amess’s death.

“The question of anonymity has dominated the discussion of online abuse for the past week,” Dorries wrote in a column for the Daily Mail last month. “Rest assured, this bill will end the anonymous abuse because it will end the abuse, period.”