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Facebook plans for ‘social audio’ tools

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Facebook plans to launch a series of new “social audio” products in the next few months, taking on buzzy audio-chat apps such as Clubhouse that have become more popular during the pandemic.

“We think that audio is of course also going to be a first-class medium and there are all these different products to be built across the whole spectrum,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an audio interview with tech journalist Casey Newton on group chatting app Discord.

Zuckerberg said he thinks audio is growing in popularity because it allows for longer discussions and multitasking. 

One of the products, known as “Soundbites,” will allow users to record short voice clips and post them in their News Feed as they do photos, text and video.

Zuckerberg said the company is also working on a tool that lets people listen to and engage with speakers through live audio chat like on Clubhouse.

The company is also testing an audio-only version of Rooms, a video conferencing tool it launched last year amid competition with Zoom, that’s expected to debut this summer. Users will be able to find and listen to podcasts on the Facebook app as well, the company said in a blog post. 

Meanwhile, Facebook is teaming up with Spotify on another audio product.

“We want people to be able to share content from their favorite artists and share playlists and different kinds of stuff and then in your feed just be able to click and have a little player in line and be able to use that,” Zuckerberg said.

Plans to release these new products underscore how the competition between social networks for attention is heating up as people explore different ways to share information.

Twitter, for one, has been testing an audio chat product known as Spaces. Reddit said Monday it’s also planning to launch a new audio chat feature, called Reddit Talk

The push into audio chatting could also pose more challenges for social networks that are already struggling to moderate misinformation and other offensive content on their platforms.

Misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines has been spreading on Clubhouse, Vice and Business Insider reported. Zuckerberg said Facebook has AI tools it uses to flag harmful content, noting it’s getting better at identifying harmful content before a user reports it. 

The social network, though, also has to balance concerns about hindering free expression. “That set of debates, I think, will be going on forever in terms of where to find the right line,” Zuckerberg said. 

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