Facebook’s new Metamates rebrand is inspired by ‘patronising’ Navy insult and leaves staff worrying of ‘sinking ship’

Pulitzer Prize-winning professor Douglas Hofstadter had no idea Mark Zuckerberg chose his suggestion of ‘Metamates’

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Employees formerly known as Facebookers are questioning whether they’re on a "sinking ship" after Mark Zuckerberg named them after a derogatory Navy insult used to patronise subordinates.

Meta’s internal forums lit up with emoji-heavy approval of the Meta CEO’s new dictate they be known as “Metamates”, in reference to “shipmates”.

But private chats worried the “Meta, Metamates, Me” slogan had a “military inspiration” making them part of “a cog in a machine”.

While "shipmates" sounds benign to most observers, sailors often consider it the naval equivalent of someone who is of low rank, or has done something wrong.

“Does this mean we are on a sinking ship?” a staffer wrote in the private chats reviewed by The New York Times.

“How is this going to change the company? I don’t understand the messaging,” another added. “We keep changing the name of everything, and it is confusing.”

Zuckerberg announced at a company-wide meeting that Facebookers shall henceforth be known as "Metamates", a reflection of company priorities to put themselves last behind their shipmates, while their ship, Meta, is placed above all.

Incoming CTO Andrew Bosworth confirmed on Twitter that "Metamates" was a reference to the Naval phrase, "Ship, Shipmates, Self"; it was previously adopted by Instagram.

He added that it was coined after an employee looking for ideas emailed Douglas Hofstadter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of cognitive science at Indiana University.

Facebook unveiled their new Meta sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on 28 October 2021.

That was Jim Foley, an engineering writer who is a fan of Mr Hofstadter’s work. Mr Foley reached out to the cognitive science professor after employees were asked in November last year to help find a replacement for “Facebookers”, according to email correspondence.

Mr Hofstadter toldThe Independent that he originally suggested "teammate", as each half of the word is an anagram of Meta, but added "Metamates" as an alternative in a postscript afterthought.

He had no idea the company adopted it.

“I simply did Mr Foley a favor of suggesting an idea, but I have no opinion about any of it,” he said in an email.

“By the way, I don’t use Facebook and never have. In fact, I avoid all social media. That’s not my style at all. But email I do use!” he added.

The doctrine of "ship, shipmates, self" has also come under scrutiny. Jimmy Drennan, vice president of the think tank Center for International Maritime Security, has argued it is an outdated framework that needs to be reframed as three "all equally important, interrelated elements".

“Like most nautical jargon, the aphorism has a certain graceful ring to it that captures the Navy’s mission-first mentality in very few words,” he wrote in 2018. “Unfortunately, like most dramatic notions, these are largely fictional.”

Inside the Navy, the use of "shipmates" has been a long-running tug-of-war between those service members who find it "patronising" and those that want to reclaim it as "endearing".

In the Internet’s slang bible Urban Dictionary, "shipmate" has been seen as a slur for at least 17 years.

A 2005 entry calls it a derogatory term for someone of low rank and used when correcting a mistake: "Give me your f**king liberty card shipmate!"

Command Master Chief Tony Perryman, of USS Harry S Truman, said in a 2015 article in Navy Times he wanted to reclaim the word that makes sailors cringe.

"I am always trying to steal the word ‘shipmate’ back because it has been used in the wrong context and at the wrong time," he said.

In Reddit’s r/navy subreddit, one former sailor asked if the Navy finally got over "shipmate" having the negative connotation of "hey idiot".

"It seemed that way too many sailors would get their panties in a bunch if they were called that at all, for any reason," said user Chico119. "I never really understood why and I found it very strange, especially since I honestly see that as a form of camaraderie."

Navy veteran Orvelin Valle wrote in We Are the Mighty that sailors have unique ways to get under each other’s skin and there were many worse examples. But, he added: "Just add the word ‘SHIPMATE’ to the insult to take it to the next level."

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