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Facebook

Facebook said Friday that it's launching a new video chat feature called "Messenger Rooms" that looks and functions similar to Zoom, except it allows far more people — up to 50 — to join at once for free.

Why it matters: It shows the company is willing to quickly innovate to keep up with new demand and opportunities. Facebook also announced alongside several other new video products, citing a major increase in calls and video chatting on its platforms throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Details: Messenger Rooms work like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, or any other video conferencing app, in that anyone can be invited anyone to join — even if they don’t have a Facebook account.

  • Video chats called "Rooms" can be created for free from within Messenger or Facebook, a capability that will soon roll out to Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Portal as well.
  • Facebook says ooms can be made public so that people can easily discover and drop into them, or users can control who joins and sees the room.
  • Special features, like augmented reality filters, backgrounds and lighting, will also be available.

Between the lines: In addition to the Messenger Rooms rollout, Facebook is launching and enhancing other video products to meet rising demand.

  • WhatsApp video calls can now host up to 8 people, instead of 4.
  • Video calls in Facebook Dating will now be made available to users via Facebook Messenger so that people can virtually chat with potential dates.
  • People can now mark a Facebook Event as "online," and event hosts will be able to create online events with Facebook Live.
  • Users can now "go Live" from Facebook Portal to Pages and Groups on Facebook.

The company is increasing ways to access live streaming services such as Facebook Live and Instagram Live to host workout classes, faith services and so on.

  • It's also bringing back a feature called "Live With," which allows you to invite another person into your Facebook Live broadcast, and it's making Instagram Live broadcasts watchable on desktop.
  • Users can also now post livestreams to IGTV (not just as ephemeral Stories).

By the numbers: Facebook says that between WhatsApp and Messenger, more than 700 million accounts participate in calls every day.

  • In a press release, it says that in many countries, "video calling on Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubled, and views of Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos increased significantly in March."

Yes, but: Even though there are dozens of existing group video chat services out there, Facebook's offering is unique in that it seems explicitly geared towards leisure and personal connections, rather than work.

Be smart: Coronavirus lockdowns have exposed major issues with privacy and security around videoconferencing.

  • Lawmakers have called for investigations into Zoom over potential security concerns.
  • And Facebook is no stranger to privacy flaps. Just Thursday, a federal judge approved the $5 billion fine Facebook must pay the Federal Trade Commission to settle a privacy probe stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Jul 31, 2020 - Technology

Big Tech's take grows as economy tanks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While the rest of the U.S. economy was falling off a cliff, Big Tech saw its business soar.

The big picture: Thursday morning, government economists reported a 30% drop in GDP for the second quarter — the largest decline, by far, since the numbers have been reported.

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.