Facebook’s multi-billion dollar ad business continues to grow even as the coronavirus pandemic hobbles the economy and high-profile brands boycott the social network to pressure the company to combat hate speech more aggressively.
The world’s biggest social network reported second-quarter earnings on Thursday, a day after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before US lawmakers in a lengthy antitrust hearing. Joined by Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg told lawmakers that company wouldn’t set its content policies because of advertisers.
Congressional concerns about antitrust join a long list of challenges the company has faced this year. Activists, commentators and even Facebook employees have criticized the company for exempting posts by politicians, including President Donald Trump, from fact checking and failing to remove or take action against posts that contain misinformation about voting or incite violence against protesters. Facebook says Trump’s posts didn’t violate the social network’s rules. Still, the company said it would start labeling all content about voting, including the president’s, and directing users to an online voter information hub. The company also said that it would label posts from politicians if they violate its rules but are kept up because they are in public interest. Content that suppresses voting and incites violence will be removed even if it comes from a politician.
Facebook has also been criticized for how it enforces its rules against hate speech. Civil rights groups launched a campaign called Stop Hate for Profit that called on advertisers to pause spending on Facebook in July. The groups, which include the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color of Change, say it became apparent that Facebook hasn’t done enough to combat hate speech in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death sparked conspiracy theories and stoked misinformation that spread on social networks as nationwide protests calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality spread. The organizers of the boycott want Facebook to hire an executive with a civil rights background, allow people who have faced harassment or hate on Facebook to speak to a company representative and notify advertisers if their ad appeared next to content that the social network removed for violating its rules.
More than 1,000 businesses joined the campaign, including major brands such as The North Face, an outdoor clothing maker; Unilever, a consumer goods giant; and Verizon, a telecoms giant. Some of the businesses, which pledged to halt ad spending on Facebook for the month of July, also paused activity on Google-owned YouTube, Twitter and other social networks.
On Thursday, Facebook reported revenue of $18.69 billion in the second quarter, which ended on June 30. The social network beat Wall Street’s expectations of $17.4 billion.
Facebook earned $1.80 during the second quarter, which was above the $1.39 that analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected.
Monthly active users rose to 2.7 billion, up 21% from the same period last year.
Doubling down on video
Facebook has doubled down on video, as more people turned to the social network to keep in touch with family and friends during the coronavirus pandemic.
In April, Facebook released a feature that allows users to video chat with multiple people through its Messenger messaging service even if they didn’t have a Facebook account. The company also ramped up its video chat efforts as Zoom, a video conference app, grew more popular.
Last week, Facebook said users will be able to live stream their video chats from, which can include up to 50 people, on the social network. The company envisions the tool will be used to broadcast events such as book club meetings and fitness classes. Facebook-owned Instagram also launched a way to fundraise during a live video in April.