Facebook revealed that daily usage has soared since the outbreak of the coronavirus as its advertising revenue in the first three months of 2020 rose 17% year on year to US$17.7 billion.
Facebook, in revealing its first quarter financial performance, reported that the number of people daily using the service, particularly its messaging and video call features, was 1.73 billion on average last month, up 11% year over year, as lockdowns caused by the coronavirus outbreak hit large parts of the world.
Facebook also revealed that more than 3 billion people are actively using Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger each month, including 2.6 billion people using Facebook alone, and more than 2.3 billion people using at least one of its services every day.
“In many of the places that have been hardest hit by the virus, messaging volume increased more than 50%, and voice and video calling have more than doubled across Messenger and WhatsApp. In Italy, for example, we’ve seen up to 70% more time spent across our apps, Instagram and Facebook Live views doubled in one week, and we’ve also seen time in group video calling increase by over 1,000% in March,” Facebook CEO, Chairman and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.
“Making sure our services are stable and reliable during this period is a top priority. We’re monitoring usage closely and adding capacity in our data centers where we can. The investments we’ve made in the shared infrastructure that powers all of our different services over the years have helped us manage through this, but it has been a challenge while all our teams have been working remotely.
“I’m sharing these numbers to give you a sense of the surge in people relying on these services that we’re seeing. Obviously I wish the circumstances were different, and I don’t expect this exact spike in usage to sustain over a longer period of time. But in some areas, I think we are seeing an acceleration in pre-existing long-term trends – like the dramatic increase in online private social communication – that is likely to continue. If nothing else, this usage shows that for a lot people around the world these services are part of the social infrastructure that brings us together.
“Even before Covid-19, our product strategy was already focused on building out private social platforms and enabling online commerce, so it is well-aligned with what people need now.”
Last week, Facebook launched video chat and livestream features to its apps to capitalise on the explosion in popularity of such tools at Zoom, Slack and Google as people quarantined at home sought to keep in touch with family and friends visually during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is a lot of uncertainty now about the world and …. the impact on our business has been significant, and I remain very concerned that this health emergency and therefore the economic fallout will last longer than people are currently anticipating. And while there are massive societal costs from the current shelter-in-place restrictions, I worry that re-opening certain places too quickly before infection rates have been reduced to very minimal levels will almost guarantee future outbreaks and worse longer term health and economic outcomes,” Zuckerberg said in a statement.
Facebook’s 17% gain on revenue year-on-year marked the slowest pace of sales growth since the world’s largest social network listed publicly in May 2012, as it experienced “a significant reduction in the demand for advertising, as well as a related decline in the pricing of our ads, over the last three weeks of the first quarter of 2020”. However, Facebook added that the steep coronavirus-related decrease in advertising revenues had since stalled, with advertising revenue in the first three weeks of April “approximately flat compared to the same period a year ago,” the Financial Times reported.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook has responded to the coronavirus pandemic in three areas: “helping people stay connected while we’re all apart, assisting the public health response, and working on the economic recovery, especially for small businesses.”
“The first step here is connecting people with authoritative health information. We built a Covid-19 Information Center with authoritative information from health officials and governments, and messages encouraging people to stay home that are coming from public figures they trust. We put this Covid-19 Information Center at the top of everyone’s Facebook app, and so far we’ve directed more than 2 billion people to it,” Zuckerberg said.
“Equally important is also limiting the spread of misinformation. We don’t allow content that puts people at imminent risk of physical harm, so when people share hoaxes like that inhaling water cures Covid – which is both false and will be physically harmful if anyone does that – we take that down. For other types of misinformation, we partner with independent fact-checkers, who have marked more than 4,000 pieces of content related to Covid as false, which has resulted in more than 40 million warning labels being seen across our services. And we know these work because 95% of the time when someone sees a warning label, they don’t click through to view that content.
“Beyond helping people broadly access high quality information, we’re also focused on helping governments and health authorities get better data in a privacy protective way to inform key policy decisions that they need to make as well. We partnered with Carnegie Mellon to run a widespread symptom survey on Facebook, and we’re using their findings to produce daily county-by-county maps of the symptoms people are experiencing across the country, and soon globally as well. Since people experiencing symptoms is a precursor to them going to the hospital or getting more seriously ill, this tool can help local governments and health officials plan how to allocate scarce resources like PPE and ventilators, as well as determine when it is safe to start re-opening an area – or when an area will need to have tighter shelter orders if symptoms re-emerge.
“Just this morning, we announced that we’re working to connect these symptom surveys to ground truth infection rate data from large serology and PCR studies that are funded separately by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in order to more accurately determine the true infection and exposure levels globally in a local region basis as well.
“This is work we’re uniquely positioned to do because Facebook is a global community and people use their authentic identities on our service so that means we can make sure the data is meaningful. But we’re very focused on doing this work in ways we know will be helpful to the health response and that protects people’s privacy and human rights, which is why we’ve primarily focused on how aggregate data can help.”
Zuckerberg also revealed that the company was looking to hire at least 10,000 more people.
“I’ve always believed that in times of economic downturn the right thing to do is to keep investing in building the future. I believe this for a few reasons. First, when the world changes quickly, people have new needs and that means that there are more new things to build. Second, since many big companies will pull back on their investments, there are a lot of things that wouldn’t otherwise get built but that we can help deliver. And third, I believe there is a sense of responsibility and duty to invest in the economic recovery and provide stability for your community and stakeholders if you have the ability to do so,” Zuckerberg said.
“We’re in a fortunate position to be able to do this. Along with our strong financial position and the important social value our services provide, we’re planning to hire at least 10,000 more people in product and engineering roles this year so we can continue building and making progress. That said, with advertisers spending less and our business performance below previous expectations, we do plan to moderate some areas of our expense growth, especially in business functions. We accept that our profit margins will decrease this year as we continue investing …. But this economic pullback has certainly reinforced for me the importance of maintaining high margins. Our financial position has allowed us to continue investing in building products and making investments like our partnership with Jio even when the underlying economic conditions are challenging.”