Facebook capped a tumultuous 2020 with soaring earnings in the final quarter, but the company forecast challenges in 2021 that include a coming privacy update by Apple that could limit the social network’s ad targeting capabilities.
The Apple move drew a rare public rebuke from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who during a conference call accused Apple of favoring its own interests and not those of users.
Facebook said its already enormous user base grew in the fourth quarter as people stayed home during the pandemic and reported revenues buoyed by a shift to digital advertising amid coronavirus-related economic uncertainty.
But the company predicted uncertainty for 2021 and said its revenue in the latter half of the year could face significant pressure. Because revenue grew so quickly in the second half of 2020, the social network could have trouble keeping up that pace.
“Clearly the pandemic has also continued to help Facebook’s monthly active user growth to remain strong in many regions, including in the U.S. and Canada, where prior to the pandemic, user gains had slowed to a crawl,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. But she noted that the number of daily users in this region declined, suggesting that people in the U.S. and Canada are moving elsewhere — probably TikTok, which grew quickly in 2020.
In the conference call with analysts, Zuckerberg came out swinging, saying Apple is fast becoming one of Facebook’s “biggest competitors” due in part to its dominance in messaging on the iPhone. Apple, he said, “has every incentive” to use its own mobile platform to interfere with how rival apps work.
Apple will soon require apps to ask users for permission to collect data on what devices they are using and to let ads follow them around on the internet. Facebook has been pushing back against the changes, saying those rules could reduce what apps can earn by advertising through Facebook’s audience network.
Of course, the Apple move also threatens Facebook’s own advertising revenue. Zuckerberg, though, focused on what he sees as Apple’s motives.
“Apple may say that they are doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests,” Zuckerberg said.
Apple, meanwhile, says people should be empowered to have more control of their data. Executives have dismissed arguments from advertisers and companies like Facebook who say the anti-tracking feature will hurt the online ad industry.
“When invasive tracking is your business model, you tend not to welcome transparency and customer choice,” Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi said in December.
Facebook earned $11.22 billion, or $3.88 per share, in the October-December period, well above the $3.19 that analysts expected and up 53% from a year earlier. Revenue grew 22% to $28.07 billion, higher than the $26.36 billion analysts were predicting, according to a poll by FactSet.
Also Read: Twitter launches privacy center to boost user data protection
Its monthly user base grew 12% to 2.8 billion. Facebook ended 2020 with 58,604 employees, a 30% increase from a year earlier.
While Facebook does not break out how much it makes from Instagram, which it owns, eMarketer estimates that the app accounted for 36% of Facebook’s total advertising revenue and nearly half of its U.S. ad revenue.
Shares of the Menlo Park, California-based company climbed $1.23 to $273.37 in after-hours trading. The stock price rose 33% in 2020.
Twitter says it has suspended more than 70,000 accounts associated with the far right QAnon conspiracy theory following last week’s U.S. Capitol riot.
The social media company said Tuesday that given the events last week in Washington, D.C., where a mob of pro-Trump loyalists tried to violently storm the Capitol building, it was taking action against online behavior “that has the potential to lead to offline harm.”
In many cases, a single individual operated numerous accounts, driving up the total number of affected accounts, the company said in a blog post.
“These accounts were engaged in sharing harmful QAnon-associated content at scale and were primarily dedicated to the propagation of this conspiracy theory across the service,” the company said.
Twitter’s sweeping purge of QAnon accounts, which began Friday, is part of a wider crackdown that also includes its decision to ban President Donald Trump from the service over worries about further incitement to violence.
The suspensions mean some Twitter users will lose followers, in some cases by the thousands, the company said.
The QAnon conspiracy theory is centered on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against “deep state” enemies and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. Twitter has previously tried to crack down on QAnon, removing more than 7,000 accounts in July.
Twitter said it’s also stepping up enforcement measures and starting Tuesday it will limit the spread of posts that violate its civic integrity policy by preventing anyone from replying to, liking or retweeting them. The policy prohibits attempts to manipulate elections and spread misleading info about their results, with repeated violations resulting in permanent suspension.
A UN human rights expert has called on Facebook’s Oversight Board to take the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities into account in reaching decisions, particularly on hate speech.
The UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, welcomed the recent news that Facebook’s Oversight Board has accepted its first six cases appealing against decisions to remove content.
The Oversight Board, compared by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the social media platform’s own Supreme Court, is an independent body that reviews Facebook moderation decisions.
“Minorities are the most likely target of online hate speech, and we know that online hate speech against minorities often leads to severe real-world harm, and may even lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide,” said de Varennes on Wednesday in a statement issued from Geneva. “Hate speech online is one of today’s most acute challenges to human dignity and life.”
In particular, the Oversight Board should consider Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN General Assembly’s 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, as well as other jurisprudence on the rights of minorities.
De Varennes also said Facebook’s Community Standards should be brought into line with the understanding of “hate speech” in the recent UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.
He said Facebook’s omission of protection for linguistic minorities from hate speech is troubling and contrary to international human rights law.
However, he called the Oversight Board “an innovative and ambitious initiative to regulate online expression, in particular hate speech, which is essential for the effective protection of vulnerable minorities worldwide.”
He commended the fact that the Board is made up of prominent experts committed to human rights and freedom of expression, and noted that efforts have been made to ensure impartiality by having an independent trust administer it.
During 2020, de Varennes has made “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities” his thematic focus. He convened regional fora in Europe and Asia, and presided over the UN Forum on Minority Issues in November 2020. The three fora have made more than 100 recommendations for tackling online hate speech against minorities.
“I look forward to continuing to constructively engage with the Oversight Board, and hope I can assist in its institutional development and on issues related to minorities,” de Varennes said.
Individuals linked to Russia and the French military used fake Facebook and Instagram accounts to wage a covert disinformation campaign in the Central African Republic ahead of elections there this month, Facebook announced this week.
Facebook said it took down hundreds of accounts and groups linked to France and Russia accused of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in the CAR as well as other countries in Africa and the Middle East.
While accounts traced to Russia have been repeatedly accused of such activity, Facebook told The Associated Press this is the first time it has taken action against a network tied to individuals associated with a Western government. It has taken action against networks tied to political parties in the West in the past.
Facebook’s move came ahead of elections Dec. 27 in the Central African Republic, which Facebook identified as the main target of the disinformation, at a time when both France and Russia have been jockeying for influence in the region.
The company said its investigators traced the French accounts to “individuals associated with French military.” However, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said in a statement that “we did not see evidence that the French military itself directed the activity.”
Graphika, a New York City social media analysis firm that investigated the accounts with Facebook, said it found no evidence of direct institutional involvement by the French government or military.
The French military said in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press that it “firmly condemns” such disinformation efforts and is working alongside the U.N. and European partners to bring peace to the CAR.
“We are examining the results (of the Facebook-Graphika investigation), but at this stage, we’re not able to confirm any responsibility. There are many stakeholders in this struggle, public and civilian, which makes it difficult to assess the situation clearly,” the statement said.
France was once the colonial power in the Central African Republic and nearby countries that Facebook also identified as being targeted. Russian companies also have growing interests in the region.
Facebook said it removed the networks for “violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) on behalf of a foreign or government entity.”
Russian officials have not publicly commented.
Facebook said its investigation found links to individuals associated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency, a so-called troll farm accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, and Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has ties to the Kremlin and has been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department. Prigozhin has repeatedly denied any connections to the troll farm and its activities.
The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned mining businesses and employees tied to Prigozhin in the Central African Republic and claims his business activities there are coordinated with the Russian government. In a statement published this week on Russian social networks in response to media queries, Prigozhin claimed that Facebook is a tool of U.S. intelligence agencies and “a group of oligarchs” serving to advance American interests around the world.
Facebook said it has taken down the network of accounts that tried to meddle in the Central African Republic, which were among almost 500 inauthentic Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages and groups that targeted users in several African and the Middle Eastern nations with posts about COVID-19, politics or the military.
“While we’ve seen influence operations target the same regions in the past, this was the first time our team found two campaigns — from France and Russia — actively engage with one another,” Facebook said in its report on the networks.
In the Central African Republic, the dueling French and Russian troll operations tried to counter one another with Facebook posts, and at some points tried to expose the other, according to a report by Graphika.
The Russian operation, primarily conducted in French, posted pro-Kremlin videos and applauded the Central African Republic’s incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, according to Graphika.
The French operation, meanwhile, strayed away from talking about upcoming elections in posts. It began as early as May 2018, focusing on the Central African Republic and security in Mali.
One Russian page that promoted Touadéra had 50,000 followers. Meanwhile, the largest following a French group amassed in the Central African Republic was 34 followers.
“Facebook’s takedown marks a rare exposure of rival operations from two different countries going head to head for influence over a third country,” Graphika said in a statement.
The popular social media Facebook’s Messenger went down on Thursday afternoon.
Users are unable to send messages and are instead seeing a message indicating that the app is “waiting for network”, reports UK based news media Independent.
The technical issues arrived at the same time as Instagram was seemingly hit on its own direct massages service, which made it hard to send or receive new chats.
The outage also comes at a difficult time for Facebook, arriving just hours after it was announced that the company was being hit by lawsuits that threatened to break up its services, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The problems particularly affected people in Europe, according to tracking website Down Detector, though that might be a result of where its users are based and online.