Apr 30, 2019 - Technology

Facebook takes a licking, but we keep on clicking

Note: Twitter did not report daily active users prior to Q2 2018; Data: Facebook, Twitter and Snap earnings reports; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios
Note: Twitter did not report daily active users prior to Q2 2018; Data: Facebook, Twitter and Snap earnings reports; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Facebook continues to make mountains of money, serve more users than ever before, and plan bold new moves.

Why it matters: That's all after the company's two-year cascade of controversy, criticism by lawmakers, and negative coverage over privacy lapses, allegations of bias, failures to rein in hate speech, charges of monopolistic behavior, and fears of Facebook-fueled digital addiction.

The big picture: Facebook is summoning developers worldwide this week to its annual F8 developers' conference in San Jose after reporting strong quarterly results last week, even with the announcement of a $3 billion set-aside to cover an anticipated record penalty from the Federal Trade Commission over user privacy violations.

Facebook is still the most powerful digital marketing platform on the planet. Advertisers would love to diversify the digital ecosystem and rely less on Facebook, but no one has come up with a better alternative.

  • Facebook is so effective as a marketing platform because it is able to curate an unprecedented amount of social data on users across its apps (Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp). That data lets it sell relatively inexpensive ads to nearly any type of customer.

Facebook's stock plummeted last fall in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's acknowledgment that hiring legions of human moderators for the platform would cut into profits. But the stock price has recently climbed back to near record peaks.

  • And the company isn't slowing down: It has announced plans to unite its three currently separate messaging platforms and move ahead, via its Oculus subsidiary, with its bet on VR as the future of social technology.

Reality check: The onslaught of bad press has taken a toll on Facebook's reputation, according to a recent Axios Harris poll. But it hasn't sparked any kind of mass exodus from the social network.

  • To the extent that some U.S. users may have reduced their Facebook time, many have moved over to Instagram β€” which Facebook has owned since 2012.
  • WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging platform that Facebook acquired in 2014, is the equivalent of the dial tone in many countries, especially emerging markets where other internet services are less mature.

Zuckerberg has never been more fully in control of the company. As one response to Facebook's many privacy-related problems, he is steering the platform toward a new emphasis on WhatsApp-style private messages.

  • The move is right out of the Steve Jobs playbook: Cannibalize your own products before your competitors can.

Our thought bubble: If this is what Facebook looks like when it's back on its heels, it's hard to imagine how dominant the social networking giant would be if it were, say, leaning in.

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