(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. unveiled updates to the Groups
feature of its main social network, doubling down on a successful but
controversial part of the big blue app — and another sign that Facebook is
moving toward more private, intimate communication.
The changes, announced Tuesday at the company’s annual F8
conference in San Jose, California, make Groups a bigger part of the Facebook
user experience. A new design for the Facebook mobile app highlights the Groups
that users have joined, and now shows a personalized feed of activity across
all the groups people are part of in a special tab.
Facebook has been pushing more aggressively into groups for
the past two years as people shy away from posting things publicly and look for
more intimate ways to connect with friends and family. Fast-growing meme and
community groups have been a recent bright spot for Facebook amid a series of
privacy scandals, and the company is also shifting its focus to deal with its
own projections that people are spending less time on its namesake site.
“There are tens of millions of active groups on Facebook,”
the company said in a statement. “When people find the right one, it often
becomes the most meaningful part of how they use Facebook. And today, more than
400 million people on Facebook belong to a group that they find meaningful.”
Groups, which can be public or private on the social
network, can be used to help keep long-distance friends in touch, connect
people with similar interests or passions, and organize events. Facebook is
also making it easier to discover new Groups based on users’ interests, and
will recommend relevant groups to people when they are in other parts of the
app, like Marketplace, the Gaming tab and its Watch video service. People will
also be able to share content directly to their Groups from the share button on
the main News Feed, the same way they do with friends and family, Facebook
The company is even rolling out specific features for
different types of groups. For example, members in health-related groups can
ask the group admin to post on their behalf to better protect their privacy.
Facebook is also adding more chat features for groups focused on gaming.
The growth of groups makes it more urgent for Facebook to
reckon with the spammers, manipulators and hackers that exploit them to spread
misinformation and conspiracy theories, among other things. In special counsel
Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities
for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, several Facebook groups
were cited as tools to support President Donald Trump’s campaign or oppose
Hillary Clinton’s. More recently, Facebook groups have been blamed for
amplifying anger and spreading misinformation during violent protests in
France. On WhatsApp, an encrypted Facebook messaging service, private groups
have been used to spread dangerous misinformation that has led to physical
violence and even deaths.
In March, Zuckerberg said Facebook is undertaking a massive
overhaul to focus on private, ephemeral and encrypted communication, saying
that more people want to interact privately or in more intimate groups — rather
than the open-sharing model he built the company around. The company also aims
to integrate Facebook’s different online properties, allowing users to send
messages between WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
Facebook will unveil a slew of other new features on
Tuesday. The company’s Dating service is getting a new feature called Secret
Crush that lets people “express interest in” up to nine of their Facebook
friends. If one of these users has opted into Facebook Dating, they will get a
notification saying someone has a crush on them. If that person adds the
original admirer to their Secret Crush list, Facebook makes a match —
digitally, at least. Facebook Dating, which was announced at last year’s F8, is
still free to users.
Menlo Park, California-based Facebook is also trying to
facilitate non-romantic relationships. A “Meet New Friends” feature will make
recommendations based on some shared connection — like living in the same city
or working at the same company. It’s opt-in, so users will only see other
people who are open to meeting new friends, and vice versa, the company said.
It will also be integrated into Facebook Groups.
The social network’s e-commerce service, called Marketplace,
also got an upgrade. People who sell goods on Marketplace will soon be able to
take payment directly through Facebook, including shipping costs, the company
said. Today, people who sell goods have to arrange payment outside of Facebook,
though they can do so via Facebook’s messaging app, Messenger.
PayPal Holdings Inc. will process payments for purchases
made directly inside Marketplace, according to a company spokesperson. That’s
the same payments partner Facebook’s Instagram is using to process in-app
purchases. Facebook also says it is considering charging sellers a fee for
facilitating these deals.
“We are evaluating a selling fee that is in line with
competitive platforms to help cover payment processing and programs such as
purchase protection,” a spokesperson said.