Apr 30, 2019

Facebook takes a licking, but we keep on clicking

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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 — 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.

Go deeper

Updated 21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

The latest: George Floyd protests nationwide

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued for a seventh day across the U.S., with President Trump threatening on Monday to deploy the military if the unrest continues.

The latest: New York Attorney General Letitia James responded to Trump's comments by tweeting that he "is not a dictator & he doesn’t have the right to unilaterally deploy U.S. military across American states. We will guard the right to peaceful protest & will not hesitate to go to court to protect our constitutional rights during this time & well into the future."

2 hours ago - World

The world watches America burn

Newspaper front pages via the Newseum

The world is watching the grief and anger, violence and pain in America's streets.

The big picture: The U.S. accounts for nearly one-third of the world's deaths from COVID-19. The killing of a black man, George Floyd, by police has sparked days of protest and nights of chaos in America's major cities.

Trump walks to historic St. John's Church outside White House as protests rage

President Trump walked to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, located just steps away from the White House across Lafayette Park, on Monday night as protests linked to the murder of George Floyd raged across the capital and cities around the country.

What we're seeing: Military police and park rangers used physical force and tear gas on peaceful protestors to clear the area so that Trump could "pay respects" to the church that was damaged by a fire on Sunday.