Facebook To Reduce Political Content After Posting Healthy Profit

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Mark Zuckerberg admits platform is looking at ways to reduce political content in news feeds, after it posts billion dollar profits

Facebook ended 2020 with healthy profits and revenues, despite the Coronavirus pandemic that engulfed the world during the previous year.

The strong fiscal performance also comes despite the social networking giant being subjected to intense scrutiny from both governments and regulators.

Some of the scrutiny comes because Facebook opted not to ban political adverts on its platform. This is in stark contrast to Twitter, which in November 2019 announced that it was banning all political advertising worldwide.

Political adverts

That same month, Google also announced that it would no longer allow political adverts that target sections of people.

But Facebook resisted, although it did apply a political advertising ban in the lead up and soon after the US Presidential election in November 2020.

Just before the election itself, Facebook also confirmed it had temporarily stopped recommendations for all political groups and all new groups.

That move was part of a broader effort by the company to curb misinformation around the election.

Facebook’s policy on limiting political ads before and after the election caused a furore when it emerged that the company had mistakenly barred ads from the Trump and Biden campaigns that had been running on the site before the Tuesday deadline.

Zuckerberg announcement

But now in an earning call with analyst to discuss Facebook’s fourth quarter and full year financial results, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is considering steps it can take to reduce the amount of political content in the News Feed.

“One of the top pieces of feedback that we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services,” Zuckerberg was quoted by CNN as saying.

As mentioned previously, before the US presidential election, Facebook had stopped recommending civic and political groups to its users.

Now, it plans to keep them out of recommendations for the long term globally, Zuckerberg said.

Financial performance

Facebook posted a healthy set of financial results, despite Covid-19 and regulatory challenges during 2020.

For the fourth quarter ending 31 December, Facebook posted a net profit up 53 percent at $11.2bn, compared to $7.3bn in the same year-ago quarter.

Quarterly revenues rose 31 percent to $28bn compared to $21bn in the same quarter last year.

There was even better news for the full year results.

For the 2 months ending 31 December, Facebook posted a net profit up 58 percent at $29.1bn, compared to a profit of $18.5bn in 2019.

Annual revenues rose 22 percent to $86bn, compared with $71bn for the whole of 2019.

And when combining Facebook’s various apps, including Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, the company reported 3.3 billion monthly active users, an increase of 14 percent year-over-year.

“We had a strong end to the year as people and businesses continued to use our services during these challenging times,” said Zuckerberg in a statement. “I’m excited about our product roadmap for 2021 as we build new and meaningful ways to create economic opportunity, build community and help people just have fun.”

Challenges ahoy

But there is no disguising that going forward Facebook is facing some stiff challenges.

Almost all of Facebook’s revenue is generated via advertising sales, but Apple has implemented new privacy labels, with apps on its App Store now required to display a summary of the app’s privacy practices.

This label to inform users about how their data and web surfing habits are tracked for advertisers was fiercely opposed by Facebook and advertising bodies.

Facebook in December was also hit with two separate antitrust lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a coalition of attorneys general from 48 states and territories.

Facebook is being accused of alleged anti-competitive conduct by buying up rivals and stifle competition, and faces a significant risk of having to divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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