SAN JOSE, CALIF. — Facebook is launching a major redesign of its app and website built around letting people connect with groups that share their interests — an attempt to shift its focus away from the untrammeled public sharing that has helped spread hate speech, extremism, misinformation and livestreamed video of massacres.
The new features, announced Tuesday at the company's annual F8 developer conference, are part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's broader strategy for countering Facebook's growing array of critics, emboldened regulators and competitors.
Zuckerberg, who at one point stood in front of a giant display reading “The future is private,” acknowledged widespread skepticism of his plan to turn Facebook into a “privacy-focused” social network.
"Look, I get that a lot of people aren't sure that we are serious about this," he said to laughter from the crowd. "We are committed to doing this well and to starting a new chapter for our products."
The redesign isn't without risks of its own. When Snapchat rolled out major changes in late 2017, people hated them so much the service lost 3 million users in a single quarter; analysts think it still hasn't recovered.
Zuckerberg and his chief lieutenant, Sheryl Sandberg, have apologized repeatedly over the past year for Facebook's ever-expanding list of mishaps over privacy, data misuse and security problems. Last week, the company said it is setting aside $3 billion to cover a possible fine from the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations.
Amid all that, Zuckerberg is encouraging Facebook users to rely more on private messaging and “communities.” The redesign is structured to make it as easy to connect with groups as it is with individual friends, he said.
The groups cover a wide range of interests and topics — hiking, hair care, parenting, rare diseases. Recommended groups will appear on users' homepages. (The redesign will also do away with Facebook's signature blue banner.)
Groups have also caused controversy for the company, especially as communities pop up around extremist topics. Facebook is working to remove groups that have “harmful content,” Zuckerberg said, and to de-emphasize those that share misleading information.
The redesigned mobile app is live for U.S. users now, while the desktop version is coming later this year. This is Facebook's fifth major mobile app redesign since it launched more than a decade ago.