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Facebook wants to show it's a force for good amid scandals

At Facebook's Communities Summit, the social network unveils updates to tools for blood donations, nonprofits and mentorships.

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Facebook's mission is to bring the world closer together. But lately the company has been associated with breaking societies apart.

The world's biggest social network was used to spread misinformation in elections around the world, potentially affecting their outcomes. The UN determined that Facebook played a role in furthering hate speech in Myanmar, contributing to a possible genocide. Five people were reportedly lynched in India after a rumor spread through WhatsApp, a messaging app owned by Facebook, over the summer.

The social network, which has 2.3 billion users, has been doing more to combat these issues, by pulling down groups and pages that violate its rules and limiting the number of WhatsApp messages that can be forwarded.

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Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg made a brief appearance at the social network's communities summit in Menlo Park. 

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On Thursday, the tech giant tried to reset perceptions, showcasing the work it's been doing to "build community and bring the world closer together." More than 400 community leaders gathered at the social network's Menlo Park, California, headquarters for the company's third annual Communities Summit. Live music filled the air as attendees shuffled into a room filled with bright colors.

The summit was yet another reminder of how many people still use Facebook to spread the word about causes they care about, find new customers and share their stories even as the social network deals with a series of scandals. About 1.4 billion people use Facebook groups every month worldwide. 

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who kicked off the summit, acknowledged that the company is going through a challenging time and needs to do more to prevent harm on the platform because "the bad threatens to drown out the good."

"The power to share and connect is only step one," Sandberg said. "It's what we do with it." 

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg also made a brief appearance to thank community leaders for what they're doing to help the social network accomplish its mission. 

"I really believe that the work that you're doing is the most important work that we are helping to empower here at Facebook," he told the audience.

Ime Archibong, Facebook's vice president of product partnerships, pointed out in a blog post how the social network has been used for good. Tarjimly, a nonprofit, uses Facebook Messenger to connect volunteer translators with immigrants and refugees in need around the world. "The Broke Black Girl," a Facebook group, provides finance and career advancement information to women. It has more than 50,000 members.

At the summit, Archibong unveiled updates to tools for people who run Facebook groups and pages, many of which are operated by nonprofits. 

Though Facebook is making more tools available, Archibong told community leaders it's up to them to make sure they have a positive impact.

"We ultimately want to make sure that physical distance isn't a barrier to emotional proximity," he said in a speech.

The tech giant is expanding a feature, which debuted in India in 2017, that lets Facebook users sign up to be blood donors to the US. Users who sign up will receive notifications about blood types that are urgently needed.

Instagram, a Facebook service, will let users demonstrate their support for a nonprofit by posting a donation sticker in Stories, a feature that lets users post videos and photos that disappear in 24 hours. Users who run Facebook pages will also be able to respond to direct messages from Instagram from their Facebook page inbox.

Over the next few months, the company is also expanding a tool that lets users find mentors and mentees in Facebook groups globally, including in North and South America. The feature used to be available only to groups aimed at parenting and professional and personal development.

Facebook said it's making it easier for people who administer Facebook groups to let members know when they've violated a rule. It will also allow Facebook Group administrators to search through membership requests and filter their activity log by date.

Some of the Communities Summit's attendees said the scandals plaguing Facebook haven't given them pause about using the social network.

Nick Black and Brian Kinsella co-founded the nonprofit Stop Soldier Suicide, which has a Facebook page with more than 384,600 followers.

The North Carolina veteran-founded nonprofit uses Facebook to spread awareness about its cause, raise funds and find veterans who struggle with mental health. In 2018, the group raised about $2.5 million using Facebook, Kinsella said.

Within the last year, the nonprofit also grew the number of people who followed its Facebook page by more than 150,000.

"I think in the face of the growing pains the company is seeing, the organizations are still thriving on the platform," Kinsella said. 

Latasha Morrison, founder of the Facebook group Be the Bridge to Racial Unity, said that social media, like a car, can be used for good or evil. 

The Facebook group, which aims to foster more awareness about racial disparities and injustice, has more than 21,000 members. Be the Bridge, which began on the social network, was eventually incorporated into a nonprofit. 

"When you have tremendous fast growth in this amount of time," Morrison said. "you're going to have hiccups."

First published Feb. 7, 10:33 a.m. PT
Updates, 12:50 p.m.: Includes remarks from keynote speeches; 3:30 p.m.: Adds quotes from Communities Summit attendees. 

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