Facebook launches UK program to combat violence, terrorism with counterspeech

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Facebook is adding more allies in its fight against violence and terrorism.

On Friday, the tech firm launched a new program in the United Kingdom to help non-governmental organizations and anti-terrorism groups speak up against extremist groups online.

The social media giant, which has faced criticism from politicians for not doing enough to combat extremism, said it will help these groups connect to experts and provide ad credits for counterspeech campaigns. Facebook is also funding academic research on extremism, but did not specify how much it’s contributing.

“While research shows that radicalization mostly happens offline, the battle for hearts and minds can be won online too,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote on Friday. “We want to make it easier for people to stand together against extremism and hatred online – because we have seen how powerful that can be.”

Last week, the tech firm outlined what it’s been doing to prevent terrorist groups from spreading their message on the social network.

From suicides to fake news, Facebook continues to grapple with a number of tough questions and hard choices.

Facebook’s announcement of the new initiative comes a day after the company released a new mission statement: “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

“Our society is still divided. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more. It’s not enough to simply connect the world, we must also work to bring the world closer together,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the company’s first community summit on Thursday.

While some applauded the social media company’s efforts, others aren’t satisfied.

Jeff Bercovici, the San Francisco Bureau Chief at Inc. Magazine, wrote that Facebook “also needs to take a hard look at how it shapes users’ behaviors, whether as individuals or members of groups.”

“The rewards, incentives and other nudges it uses to maximize engagement and promote sharing account for a lot of the distortions that make Facebook so problematic, whether it’s the spread of false and ultra-partisan news, the fragmenting of attention spans or the insidious creeping rollback of personal privacy,” he wrote.

And some note that Facebook’s efforts to build community by getting more people to join groups on the social network is also a business opportunity for the company.

“The formation of these highly targeted groups could prove attractive to major advertisers looking to connect with the likes of working parents, sports fans or folks coping with certain medical conditions or habits,” wrote Robert Reed, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune. 

So is Facebook trying to make more money or make the world a better place?

Perhaps it’s a little bit of both.

Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2015. (LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

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