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Amid ADL-led ad boycott, Facebook reports soaring revenues and user numbers

Social media giant reports profit nearly doubled, despite high-profile campaign meant to get company to remove toxic posts; ADL head says it’s about the message, not the money

The thumbs up 'Like' logo on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, April 14, 2020. (AP/Jeff Chiu)
The thumbs up 'Like' logo on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, April 14, 2020. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Facebook reported Thursday that its quarterly profits nearly doubled and users grew despite a boycott by advertisers and the pandemic-induced economic turmoil.

The leading social network said it made a profit of $5.2 billion on $18.7 billion in revenue in the recently ended quarter, as the number of people using the platform monthly rose to 2.7 billion.

“This was a strong quarter for us, especially compared to what we expected at the start,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

The massive jump in profit came at the same time that a campaign urging advertisers to take their business off the platform until it tackles the dissemination of hate speech appeared to be gaining steam.

Illustrative; Global citizens movement Avaaz display life-sized Zuckerberg cutouts near the EU Commission to protest against fake Facebook accounts spreading disinformation on the platform, in Brussels, Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The boycott, started by the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP under the name #StopHateForProfit had managed to sign up more than 900 companies and organizations. Facebook had responded by agreeing to some changes regarding how it polices posts.

But on Thursday, ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt told Forbes that the campaign would be extended, as Facebook “clearly [has] not done enough.”

Reacting to the earnings report, Greenblatt wrote on Twitter that “[t]oday just reminds us that they continue to profit from hate.”

Zuckerberg remained adamant Thursday that Facebook does not want hate speech on the social network, despite criticism that the social network does not do enough to fight misinformation and vitriol.

He also sought to highlight the importance of technology firms during the crisis.

In this illustrative photo from July 10, 2019, the Facebook logo is seen on a computer in Washington. (Alastair Pike/AFP)

Use of Facebook has surged as people staying close to home due to the pandemic turn to the platform to virtually connect with friends and loved ones. The number of people using the tech giant’s overall “family” of apps including WhatsApp and Messenger each month topped three billion, according to Zuckerberg.

“Imagine going through this pandemic two decades ago when the internet was nascent Facebook didn’t even exist,” Zuckerberg said.

Analysts have noted that while the ad boycott targeted larger image-conscience businesses, most of Facebook’s ad revenues come from smaller companies seeking to micro-target potential customers.

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs were grilled by Congressional lawmakers, who indicated a desire to clamp down on the power wielded by the firms and to push for more robust regulatory scrutiny.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks via video conference during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Zuckerberg said he was “troubled” by calls for regulators to make it more difficult to target advertising, saying such a move would hurt businesses trying to connect with customers, especially during economic turmoil.

“This would reduce opportunities for small businesses so much that would probably be felt at a macroeconomic level,” Zuckerberg said.

Shares in the Silicon Valley-based technology giant were up six percent in after-market trades following release of the earnings figures.

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