Friday, June 23, 2017

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's new mission: Bring the world closer together

MENLO PARK, Calif.  For the first time in its history, Facebook is changing its mission  and it's all about bringing our smartphone-tethered lives closer together.

Changing the mission is a pretty big deal" that represents a significant shift for the company, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg told USA TODAY in an interview earlier this month at his company's Silicon Valley headquarters. "We're a pretty mission-driven company."

After a decade of promoting Facebook as a service that connects small groups of friends and family, Facebook is broadening its focus for the next decade to "give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.

The new mandate stems from Zuckerberg's soul searching on how Facebook should evolve to help people pull together in divisive times.

Facebook was supposed to give people a sense of common humanity. Instead critics say Facebook has played a role in increasing polarization with the spread of fake news and reinforcement of filter bubbles during contentious elections in the U.S. and overseas.

"Mark Zuckerberg has come to a sort of realization that he's spent much of his adult life building something that has significant potential to be used for ill, including influencing elections in unexpected ways, and he wants to make sure it's actually a force for good in the world," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research. "He seems to have zeroed in on community as his big focus for Facebook's role as a positive influence. It feels like something that's personally important to Zuckerberg and that he's starting to swing Facebook's resources behind."

For Zuckerberg, the building blocks for community are Facebook groups, the private or public communal areas where people gather over common interests or challenges. At the Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago on Thursday, Zuckerberg announced updates designed to make it easier for administrators to form and manage groups. He says Facebook is helping people find groups that speak to them by getting better at suggesting groups with artificial intelligence.

"What we have come to realize is that giving people a voice is good and it helps get more opinions out there," Zuckerberg told USA TODAY. "On top of that, we also need to help people build community and get exposed to new people and new perspectives."