Facebook Sets New Vision for Next Decade, Looks to Expand Groups -- 2nd Update

By Deepa Seetharaman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is taking another step toward defining a new vision for the social-media company as it grapples with its growing power in the world.

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Over the next decade, Facebook's focus will be creating tools to build more community and bring the world closer together -- a shift from its longtime motto "connect the world."

"I used to think that if we just gave people a voice and helped them connect, that would make the world a lot better by itself," Mr. Zuckerberg said Thursday at an event in Chicago for about 300 leaders of some of Facebook's largest and frequently used groups on the platform.

"But our society is still divided. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more," he said.

Facebook executives have been contemplating the company's mission while dealing with several controversies, from criticism over its perceived role in spreading misinformation during the U.S. presidential election to its handling of violent live videos posted on the social network.

Roughly four months ago, Mr. Zuckerberg posted a broad manifesto positioning Facebook as the world's "social infrastructure." He has traveled the U.S. to better understand how Facebook, founded in 2004, can help solve some of humanity's biggest problems, from terrorism to climate change.

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Facebook sees expanding Groups, a seven-year-old product that provides an online forum for people to discuss specific interests, as key. But the product has largely languished while other company services, such as Messenger, have racked up hundreds of millions of users.

Mr. Zuckerberg has said 100 million Facebook users engage in Groups in a socially meaningful way, and that he wants to increase such membership to a billion within a few years.

One goal would be to help people build more robust communities offline, which Mr. Zuckerberg believes would help reverse what he has said is declining involvement in community anchors such as schools, neighborhoods and religious institutions.

"Meaningful groups transcend online," Mr. Zuckerberg said in an interview. "Nothing beats a face-to-face connection" but online connections can fortify in-person ones, he added.

Facebook is testing a "group-to-group linking" tool so administrators can recommend similar or related groups to their members. Facebook said this feature was just the beginning of how it would help bring "communities and sub-communities closer together."

Such moves, though, could raise thorny questions about privacy and Facebook's broadening reach into its users' lives.

Facebook, for example, would have to tread carefully in suggesting addiction-recovery groups to users, said Ime Archibong, Facebook's vice president of product partnerships. Another potential challenge would be an expansion of groups dedicated to hateful or difficult subject matter.

Executives acknowledged many aspects of the new vision haven't been hammered out. "This is not about friends and family," said Chris Cox, Facebook's product chief. "This is about a different kind of issue, which is finding a common bond. It's one that for Facebook is less-charted territory."

Facebook outlined a raft of new tools to help people manage those groups and grow their audience. The company also is exploring various ways for group administrators to generate revenue from managing those forums.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 22, 2017 18:25 ET (22:25 GMT)