Technology

Facebook records billions in profits amid backlash over safety concerns

The figures came after the publication of the Facebook Papers and a whistleblower told a parliamentary committee the firm put profits before safety.

Facebook has recorded profits of nine billion dollars (£6.5 billion) in the three months to September despite allegations that it is failing to protect young people and prevent extremism.

The figure was up from 7.8 billion dollars (£5.6 billion) for the same period last year.

The tech giant’s total revenue, mainly from ad sales, surged to 29.01 billion dollars (£21 billion) in the third quarter from 21.47 billion dollars (£15.6 billion) at the same time last year, according to financial statements.

Data also revealed the number of daily users had increased 6% to 1.93 billion since the same time last year, while the number of daily users for any of the firm’s platforms – including WhatsApp and Instagram – rose 11% to 2.81 billion in the same period.

The company said it planned to spend a further 10 billion dollars (£7.2 billion) over the next five years and hire 10,000 staff in Europe to work on Facebook Reality Labs (FRL).

The project is dedicated to virtual and augmented reality products and the realisation of its “metaverse” vision – a virtual environment which Facebook views as the next step in social interaction online.

The financial figures came after the publication of the Facebook Papers – a collection of leaked internal documents obtained by news organisations – and as Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s told Parliament’s Joint Committee the company put profits before safety.

She told committee members Facebook’s platforms fuel online hate and extremism, fail to protect children from harmful content, and lacked incentive to rectify issues.

Ms Haugen went public earlier this year with the thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the firm’s civic integrity unit.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaves the Houses of Parliament in London after she testified to MPs and peers as part of Government plans for social media regulation
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaves the Houses of Parliament in London after she testified to MPs and peers as part of Government plans for social media regulation (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Giving evidence for the draft Online Safety Bill, which aims to impose stricter regulations on social media platforms, the former Facebook data scientist said of the company: “Unquestionably, it’s making hate worse.”

Ms Haugen said she was “shocked” by the company’s determination to press on with FRL.

She said: “They’re going to hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to work on the metaverse.

“I was like, ‘Wow, do you know what we could have done with safety if we had 10,000 more engineers?’”

Facebook said it wants regulation for tech companies and that it had invested 13 billion dollars (£9.4 billion) on safety and security since 2016.

It also claimed it had “almost halved” hateful content over the last three quarters.

Ms Haugen accused Instagram of failing to stop children under 13 from opening accounts and said it was falling short when it came to protecting them from content that negatively affects their mental health.

Despite her evidence on Monday, Facebook’s share price rose 2.5% in after-hours trading after closing up 1% for the day.

With the latest release of financial statements, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg referred briefly to the “recent debate around our company” and said he welcomed “good faith criticism”.

However, he said he considers the current controversy a “co-ordinated effort” to paint a “false picture”.

Mr Zuckerberg said: “It makes a good soundbite to say that we don’t solve these impossible trade-offs because we’re just focused on making money, but the reality is these questions are not primarily about our business, but about balancing difficult social values.”

A Facebook spokesperson said: “While we have rules against harmful content and publish regular transparency reports, we agree we need regulation for the whole industry so that businesses like ours aren’t making these decisions on our own.”

The company last month delayed the launch of a separate Instagram for under-13s.

Representatives from Facebook and other social media organisations are expected to speak to the Joint Committee on Thursday.

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