Facebook takes its deepest dive yet into community service

At its Social Good Forum, the company touts new features to assist blood donation drives, mentorship programs and charity fundraisers.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
3 min read
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks community service at his company's Social Good Forum on Wednesday in New York.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks community service at his company's Social Good Forum on Wednesday in New York.


Facebook has an ambitious mission to "bring the world closer together," and it hopes its newest set of tools can help.

At the social network's second annual Social Good Forum in New York on Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is making upgrades to its fundraiser feature, introducing a new mentorship connection program and allowing its Safety Check feature to work on outside websites. He also discussed Facebook's new suicide prevention program.

"For all the things that are trying to pull people apart, if we can focus on strengthening our community, that will help us find common ground," Zuckerberg said.

Despite Facebook's mission, nation-state actors have taken advantage of the website to destroy some of the common ground Zuckerberg talks about. Facebook has faced public criticism, including from Capitol Hill, for becoming a platform Russian trolls have used to spread political chaos by way of fake groups, campaigns and ads. Trolls have used divisive views to cause real-life conflicts, including a clash in Texas between pro-Muslim and anti-Muslim groups, orchestrated by a Russian operative.  

Facebook has made a massive effort to chip away at that public image, pointing out that it helps people connect from around the world with features like Safety Check and crowd-sourced fundraisers for charities, which it announced at the inaugural Social Good Forum a year ago.

But Wednesday's announcements mark Facebook's largest effort yet to try to improve how people interact with each other on the social network, both online and offline.

The mentorship tool, for example, lets users find mentors in a given field, and people can also sign up to help nurture young minds, Zuckerberg said. The social network is partnering with iMentor to vet potential applicants.

"Facebook has mostly focused on helping us connect with people we already know. But I think it may be just as important to help us connect with people outside our social circle," he said.

The mentorship tool will be available only for users 18 and up, Facebook said.

Meanwhile, the company's fundraising tool is no longer taking a percentage of donations, meaning that 100 percent of what's donated will go to the designated charity, Zuckerberg said.

He also announced an annual $50 million fund to match people's donations on Facebook every year. The fundraising tool will be open to websites off of Facebook. That way people can start fundraisers with the social network's backing on their own websites.

"It should be easy to donate to a fundraiser no matter where it gets started," Zuckerberg said.  

The company is also building on its Safety Check crisis response tool, where people can check in on Facebook to let their loved ones know that they're safe. It announced several new features last year that let first responders on Facebook offer help for those in need.

It's now opening up the feature to websites outside of Facebook, just like its donation tool. That way, organizations like the Red Cross can find people in need faster after they check in on Facebook, Zuckerberg said.

The new crisis response features also let people donate blood by connecting on Facebook with those in need. The social network had launched a pilot program for blood donation services in India, where more than 4 million people signed up.

Facebook also detailed its new suicide prevention program, which uses a mix of an algorithm and moderators to screen millions of posts on the social network for signs of self-harm. Facebook now alerts local law enforcement if it detects posts signaling suicidal thoughts.

"In the first month alone in the US, these tools have helped first responders reach out to more than 100 people," Zuckerberg said. The company calls this new feature Wellness Checks.

Facebook's founder believes all these tools can help the social network accomplish its mission to build communities. He said he's seen people using Facebook to "make a difference" without these tools, and hopes introducing these features will help improve those efforts.

"There's no doubt that we live in challenging times right now," Zuckerberg said. "But one of the things that strikes me so much is the deep sense of optimism that you all have." 

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