During the recent community updates and quarterly results presentation, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook said:
Before we get started, I want to talk about the announcement we just shared that Sue Desmond-Hellmann is leaving our board to focus on her health and other commitments. Sue has been a wonderful and thoughtful voice on our board for six years, and I’m deeply personally grateful for everything she has done for this company.
This was a good quarter for our community and our business. There are now around 2.8 billion people using Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger each month, and around 2.2 billion people using at least one of our services daily. The Facebook app had a particularly strong quarter, including in the US and Canada. We also recently released that we estimate that more than 140 million businesses, mostly small businesses, are using our services each month to grow, create jobs and become social hubs in their communities.
This has been a busy quarter on a lot of fronts.
We’ve launched a number of new exciting products, like Facebook Dating in the US, which is doing quite well, Threads for Instagram, a camera-first experience to share with your close friends, Facebook News, our dedicated product for news that we’ve built in partnership with news publishers, and we introduced Horizon, a new social experience for VR. We also released hand-tracking technology for Oculus and Oculus Link so your Quest is basically now a Rift too. We’re making progress building out the private social platform across WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct. And we have multiple exciting initiatives around commerce and payments that are moving forward, from Marketplace to Instagram Shopping to payments in WhatsApp and continuing our discussions on Libra.
This has also been a busy quarter on the policy and social issues front. We formally entered into a settlement with the FTC to make structural changes and build a rigorous privacy program that will set a new standard for our industry. We’re about a year out now from the 2020 elections and we just announced that the systems we’ve built are now so advanced that we’ve proactively identified and removed multiple foreign interference campaigns coming from Russia and Iran. And we’ve found ourselves in the middle of the debate about what political speech is acceptable in the upcoming campaigns.
But today I want to focus on talking about principles. Because from a business perspective, it might be easier for us to choose a different path than the one we’re taking. So I want to make sure everyone is clear about what we stand for, and why we’re making some of the decisions we’re making.
I gave a speech a couple weeks ago about the importance of standing for voice and free expression. I believe strongly — and I believe that history supports — that free expression has been important for driving progress and building more inclusive societies around the world, that at times of social tension there has often been urge to pull back on free expression, and that we will be best served over the long term by resisting this urge and defending free expression.
Today is certainly a historical moment of social tension, and I view an important role of our company as defending free expression.
Now this has never been absolute and of course we take our responsibility to prevent harm very seriously too. I think we invest more in getting harmful content off our services than any other company in the world. Those who follow us closely know that we have more than 35,000 people working on safety and security, and that our budget for this work is billions of dollars a year — more than the whole revenue of our company at the time of our IPO earlier this decade. And we’re going to keep on investing more here. But while we work hard to remove content that can cause real danger, I think we also need to be careful about adopting more and more rules that restrict the way that people can speak and what they can say.
Right now, the content debate is about political ads. Should we block political ads with false statements? Should we block all political ads? Google, YouTube and most internet platforms run these same ads, most cable networks run these same ads, and of course national broadcasters are required by law to run them by FCC regulations. I think there are good reasons for this. In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news. And although I’ve considered whether we should not carry these ads in the past, and I’ll continue to do so, on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue. Ads can be an important part of voice — especially for candidates and advocacy groups the media might not otherwise cover so they can get their message into debates. And it’s hard to define where to draw the line. Would we really block ads for important political issues like climate change or women’s empowerment? Instead, I believe the better approach is to work to increase transparency. Ads on Facebook are already more transparent than anywhere else. We have a political ads archive so anyone can scrutinize every ad that’s run — you can see every message, who saw it, how much was spent — something that no TV or print media does.
Since this is an earnings call, I want to talk about the business impact of all this.
Some people accuse us of allowing this speech because they think all we care about is making money. That’s wrong. I can assure you, from a business perspective, the controversy this creates far outweighs the very small percent of our business that these political ads make up. We estimate these ads from politicians will be less than 0.5% of our revenue next year. That’s not why we’re doing this. To put this in perspective, the FTC fine that these same critics said wouldn’t be enough to change our incentives was more than 10x bigger than this. The reality is that we believe deeply that political speech is important and should be able to be heard, and that’s what’s driving us.
Other people say this policy is a part of a broader pattern of us building a system that incentivizes inflammatory content to fuel our business. Again, to the contrary, I think we’ve done more than any of the other major internet platforms to try to build positive incentives into our systems. We don’t let any of our News Feed or Instagram Feed teams set goals around increasing time spent on our services. We rank feeds to encourage meaningful social interactions — helping people connect with friends, family and their communities. We have real people come in and tell us what content they saw that was most meaningful to them and sparked valuable discussions, and then we build systems to try to surface that kind of content. We’ve taken many steps over the years to fight clickbait and polarization, and now we’re even testing removing like counts in Instagram and Facebook. We do this because we know that if we help people have meaningful interactions, they’ll find our services more valuable and that’s the key to building something sustainable and growing over time.
Last year, you probably remember we made a series of changes that emphasized friends and family and reduced time spent on our services. One change removed 50 million hours of viral video watching a day. We did this knowing it would mean people spend a lot less time on our apps — which is not what you do if you’re just prioritizing engagement over everything else. I take getting these incentives right very seriously and we’re willing to make huge sacrifices in the short term to do what we think is right and will be better over time.
Finally, some people say this is just all a cynical political calculation and that we’re acting in a way we don’t believe because we’re just trying to appease conservatives. That’s wrong too. We face a lot of criticism from both progressives and conservatives. Frankly, if our goal were trying to make either side happy, then we’re not doing a very good job because I’m pretty sure everyone is frustrated with us. Our values on voice and free expression are not partisan. But unfortunately, in our current environment, a lot of people look at every decision through the lens of whether it’s going to help or hurt the candidate they want in winning their next election.
A lot of people have told us: you’ve got to pick a side, or else both sides are going to cause a lot of problems for you. Sadly, from a practical perspective, they may be right. But we can’t make decisions that way. Over the next year of campaigns, we’re going to be at the center of the debate anytime there’s content or policies on any of our services that people believe could advantage or disadvantage their side. This may lead to more investigations, and the candidates are going to criticize us.
I expect that this is going to be a very tough year. We try to do what we think is right, but we’re not going to get everything right. This is complex stuff and anyone who says the answers are simple hasn’t thought long enough about all the nuances and downstream challenges.
I get that some people will disagree with our decisions. I get that some people will think our decisions may have a negative impact on things they really care about. But I don’t think anyone can say we’re not doing what we believe, or that we haven’t thought hard about these issues.
I could be wrong, but my experience running this company so far has been that if we do what we believe is right, even when it’s unpopular for years at a time — then eventually it has worked out best for our community and for our business too.
There’s a lot at stake here. We are at a cross-roads not only in our own country, but in the future of the global internet as well. China is building its own internet and media ecosystem that’s focused on very different values. As these systems compete, the question of which nation’s values will determine what speech is allowed for decades to come really puts into perspective the issues we face today. Because while we may disagree on exactly where to draw the line on specific issues, we at least can disagree. That’s what free expression is about.
Voice and expression have been important for progress throughout history. They’ve been important in the fight for democracy worldwide. And I believe that voice and free expression are an important part of the path forward today, and that’s why our company will continue standing for these principles.
As always, I am grateful for all of your support in everything that we do — and that’s especially true today. In addition to these challenges, there are a lot of great things going on that I’m incredibly proud of and excited about, and I’m glad that our community and business trends continue heading in a good direction.