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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Facebook wants to save the world

Facebook wants to save the world. You've got work to do

For the past six months, Mark Zuckerberg has been zigzagging the US on a well-publicized, whirlwind tour to chat with people outside the insular bubble of Silicon Valley. Along the way, Facebook's CEO met with Ford factory workers in Michigan, cattle farmers in Wisconsin and community leaders in New Orleans.

But while Zuckerberg's been attracting headlines and fueling speculation he wants to run for office, behind the scenes, another member of Facebook's top brass has been on a low-key meet-and-greet of a different kind.

Zuckerberg's longtime friend, Chris Cox, has been on a fact-finding mission with some of the nearly 2 billion people who use the social network every month. Cox, Facebook's product chief, has met with community leaders from Facebook Groups every two weeks to find out what they need from him. 

Cox and Zuckerberg have been spreading the gospel of Facebook -- the company's oft-repeated mission statement of "making the world more open and connected." But on Thursday, during its inaugural Facebook Community Summit in Chicago, the company announced a change in its mantra. Facebook's new mission: "Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."

"'Closeness together' is the operative idea," says Cox, sitting in a wood-trimmed conference room behind his desk at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. "We've now connected a lot of people through our services, and we really want to push the thinking towards closeness -- which is more than connectedness."

Facebook Groups are the public and private communities that exist outside your general news feed -- like the Hillary Clinton group Pantsuit Nation or the Lady Bikers of California, a group for women motorcyclists. Cox has been meeting with the moderators of groups like that. One trip took him as far as Lagos, Nigeria, earlier this year to meet with young, aspiring graphic designers.

Cox says reaching 2 billion Facebook users, which is expected sometime soon, seems like a good time to re-evaluate the company's mission. That's why on Thursday it's also introducing new features for Facebook Groups, including an analytics tool that lets administrators see engagement metrics.

There's also a good business reason for Facebook to invest in Groups. The more people share on Facebook, the more the company can woo marketers and advertisers. The Groups service could also be an avenue for people to share their interests in more specific ways. That's especially important as Facebook tries to fend off rivals like Snapchat, where lots of young users spend their time.
'More division'

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and his team have been grappling with some existential questions about Facebook's role in the world lately. Some of President Donald Trump's detractors blamed fake news circulating on the platform for tipping the scales in Trump's favor during the US election in November. The company has also been hammered over everything from violence and death livestreamed on the site via Facebook Live, to charges of perpetuating "filter bubbles" that warp our outlooks by pretty much only showing us stuff on our news feeds that already aligns with our personal views.

At a Facebook event in February, Zuckerberg, 33, acknowledged there's "more division" in the world now than there has been in a while. Later that month, he posted a nearly 6,000-word manifesto detailing Facebook's new modern-day ethos, including using artificial intelligence to thwart terrorism recruitment and making the social network a vessel for civic engagement.

The next step, he said, is convincing people to talk to one another more. And he believes Facebook's Groups feature can help make that happen.

"Online communities make our physical communities stronger," Zuckerberg said during a speech in Chicago on Thursday. Facebook has begun using artificial intelligence programs to suggest communities to people already, and he said it's working. "It's going to strengthen our overall social fabric and bring the world closer together."

As we walk through Facebook's Frank Gehry-designed headquarters, billed as the largest open office in the world, I ask Cox how much the new mission and focus on community has to do with the election. "There were a lot of factors," he says. "There's a lot going on in the climate of 2017."

Others think Facebook is finally reckoning with its influence.

"They recognize the role they play in terms of actually driving social structure," Bob O'Donnell, president of Technalysis Research, says. "Pardon the metaphor, but I think Facebook is  a young adult now. It realized, 'Oh shit, I'm not a kid now. I have all these responsibilities.'"


Facebook, Twitter 'addicts' are happier

Facebook, Twitter 'addicts' are happier, claims study

WASHINGTON: Facebook, Twitter and other social media users regard themselves as less unhappy than their friends, a study has found.

The research also found that people with the most number of connections on social media are happier that those with fewer friends.

For the purpose of the study, which used data from Twitter, reciprocal followers were defined as "friends" and users with the most connections were defined as "popular."

"This analysis contributes to a growing body of evidence that social media may be harmful to users who 'overindulge' in these services since it's nearly impossible to escape negative comparisons to their friends' popularity and happiness," said Johan Bollen, from Indiana University in the US.

The study builds upon a phenomenon known as the Friendship Paradox, which finds that most people on a social network have fewer connections on average than their friends, since the most popular users intersect with a higher-than- average number of social circles.

The study is the first to reveal that these more popular users are also happier on average, inflating the overall happiness level of a user's social circle - an effect the researchers dubbed the "Happiness Paradox."

"This study suggests that happiness is correlated with popularity, and also that the majority of people on social networks aren't as happy as their friends due to this correlation between friendship and popularity," Bollen said.

To conduct the analysis, researchers randomly selected 4.8 million Twitter users, then analysed the group for people who followed one another on the network, creating a social network of about 102,000 users with 2.3 million connections.

The team then narrowed their focus to individuals with 15 or more "friends" on the network, after which they analysed the sentiment of these users' tweets, a common method in computer science and marketing to assess whether digital postings are generally positive or negative in tone.
This created a group of 39,110 Twitter users. Users with higher positive sentiment were defined as "happy."

A statistical analysis of that final group found that 94.3 per cent of these users had fewer friends on average than their friends. It also found that 58.5 per cent of these users were not as happy as their friends on average.

"In other words, a majority of users may feel that they're less popular than their friends on average," Bollen said.

"They may also have the impression that they're less happy than their friends on average," he said.
"Overall, this study finds social media users may experience higher levels of social dissatisfaction and unhappiness due to negative comparison between their and their friends' happiness and popularity," Bollen said.

"Happy social media users may think their friends are more popular and slightly happier than they are - and unhappy social media users will likely have unhappy friends who still seem happier and more popular than they are on average," he said.


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