SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — At Facebook, mere “sharing” is getting old. Finding deeper meaning in online communities is the next big thing.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg is no longer satisfied with just connecting the world so that people can pass around baby pictures and live video — or fake news and hate symbols. So the Facebook founder wants to bring more meaning to its nearly 2 billion users by shepherding them into online groups that bring together people with common passions, problems and ambitions.
Much like the creation of Facebook itself — arguably the largest social-engineering project in history — that shift could have broad and unanticipated consequences. Facebook will apply the same powerful computer algorithms that make its service so compelling to the task of nudging people to consider groups they’ll find equally appealing.
If successful, that would also encourage people to spend more time on Facebook, which could boost the company’s profits. While Facebook doesn’t currently place ads in its groups, it said it “can’t speak to future plans.” Advertising is virtually Facebook’s only source of revenue ; it brought in almost $27 billion dollars in 2016, 57 percent more than the previous year.
THE SEARCH FOR MEANING
The shift comes as Facebook continues to grapple with the darker side of connecting the world, from terrorist recruitment to videos of murder and suicides to propaganda intended to disrupt elections around the world. For Zuckerberg, using his social network to “build community” and “bring the world closer together” — two phrases from Facebook’s newly updated mission statement — is a big part of the answer.
“When you think of the social structure of the world, we are probably one of the larger institutions that can help empower people to build communities,” Zuckerberg said in a recent interview at the company’s offices in Menlo Park, California. “There, I think we have a real opportunity to help make a difference.”
Zuckerberg outlined his latest vision at a “communities summit” held Thursday in Chicago. It’s the company’s first gathering for the people who run millions of groups on Facebook, a feature the company rolled out years ago to little fanfare. Facebook is also rolling out new administrative tools intended to simplify the task of screening members and managing communities in hopes that will encourage people to create and cultivate more groups.
Facebook groups are ad hoc collections of people united by a single interest; they offer ways to chat and organize events. Originally conceived as a way for friends and family to communicate privately, groups have evolved to encompass hobbies, medical conditions, military service, pets, parenthood and just about anything else you could think of.
To Zuckerberg, now 33, the effort to foster meaningful communities reflects his recent interest in ways Facebook can make the world a less divisive place, one that emerged following the fractious 2016 presidential election.
He has previously talked about the need to bring people together in both a lengthy manifesto published earlier this year and during his commencement address at Harvard University last month.
“MEANING,” FACEBOOK STYLE
That’s the theory. Practice is something else.
Data-driven to its core, Facebook has quantified “meaning” so it can be sure people are getting more of it. And what Facebook aims to maximize is the time people spend in its online groups. Whenever someone spends at least 30 minutes a week in a group, Facebook classifies it as “meaningful.” The company estimates that 130 million of its users are in such groups; it wants that number to exceed a billion people within five years.
Facebook has already been tweaking its algorithms to recommend more groups to users. Those changes have boosted the number of people in “meaningful” groups by 50 percent over the past six months, Zuckerberg said — a testament to the power of algorithms on human behavior.
Of course, anything that keeps people coming back to Facebook also gives it more opportunities to learn about their interests and other personal details that help it sell advertising, according to analysts.
“It’s really simple economics: If users are spending time on Facebook, they’re seeing more ads,” says eMarketer analyst Debra Williamson. “Increasing user engagement is a necessity for Facebook.”
Virtual communities “can fill a fundamental need we have for a sense of belonging, much like eating or sleeping,” said Anita Blanchard, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who’s studied them for 20 years.
Her research has also shown that online communities can make people less intolerant of opposing viewpoints. “They get you out of your own clothes and make connections across the U.S., making you realize you can get along with people with different beliefs,” she said.
For Sarah Giberman, an artist and parent who lives in Arlington, Texas, a meaningful group is one “that serves a need in your life, that fills some space that would otherwise feel vacant.”
“I spend a lot more time on Facebook because of the groups than I would otherwise,” she said. “Especially with the current sociopolitical climate, I’m not comfortable being very open in my regular newsfeed.”
AP technology reporter Tali Arbel contributed to this article from New York.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger says plans to renovate Memorial Stadium and build an indoor training facility are moving forward and will cost around $300 million.
The Kansas City Star reports that Zenger made the announcement Wednesday night at a meet-and-greet event for the football team at a Kansas City, Missouri, bar. He says architectural drawings are in the works and will be released to the public in September.
Zenger offered few details, saying he will speak more in the coming months after the designs are shown to fans.
Kansas football coach David Beaty says fans “deserve a really, really nice stadium.” He’s trying to turn around a program that ended with a 2-10 record last season.
University officials have considered a stadium overhaul for more than a decade.
WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — From an educator to a rapper, one local school teacher has found a unique way to teach middle school boys how to better respect themselves and better respect the learning environment.
Juanita Ridge joined KSN News at Noon Thursday to talk about her rap song “Boy Pull Your Pants Up”.
“As an educator, I had observed the trend of middle school students sagging in school, how it had become very disruptive to the learning environment, and how ill prepared many of the staff members were in responding to young men sagging their pants,” said Ridge.
See our full interview with Juanita Ridge in the video.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he “did not make” and doesn’t have any recordings of his private conversations with James Comey — his fired FBI director.
Trump also tweets that he has “no idea” whether other “tapes” or recordings exist.
Trump has disputed Comey’s assertion that Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty during a dinner meeting they had.
When news of Comey’s account broke, Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Under a post-Watergate law, presidential recordings belong to the people and eventually can be made public. Destroying them would be a crime.
The House committee investigating Russian meddling in the election set a Friday deadline for the White House to hand over any tapes.