In his quest to make the world a more connected place, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a recent gathering of users that he sees the social network one day taking the place of churches and Little League teams as communities continue to migrate online.
“It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter,” he said during a Chicago rally for Facebook users. “That’s a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.”
Following the 2016 election, during which Facebook and other social media sites were seen as disseminators of “fake news,” Zuckerberg has sought to refine Facebook’s mission to have more of a community-minded focus.
Facebook is now using artificial intelligence algorithms to quell the fake news fears while also seeking to organize people into groups. Zuckerberg has publicly stated that he would ultimately like 1 billion of Facebook’s 2 billion users to join one or many the social networks so-called communities.
“We started a project to see if we could get better at suggesting groups that will be meaningful to you,” he explained. “We started building artificial intelligence to do this. And it works. In the first 6 months, we helped 50% more people join meaningful communities.”
It is here that Zuckerberg sees the paradigm shift from literal communities of living people to virtual groups put together by machines.
“People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity—not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community,” he told the crowd in Chicago. “A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A Little League team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”
Facebook—which last year was forced to defend against claims that it was intentionally suppressing conservative viewpoints—now sees itself as the pastor or Little League coach who culls together people from all walks of life.
“If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together,” he said.
And while the goal may be nobel, Zuckerberg, and the social network by extension, has yet to prove he has the ability to act objectively and separate his own progressive viewpoints and opinions of the world from those of his users.