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Mark Zuckerberg Defends Political Ads, Facebook Shares Up on Better-Than-Expected Q3 Earnings

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook
Alberto Est vez/Epa/REX/Shutters

Minutes after Twitter announced that it would ban all political advertising, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used his company’s Q3 2019 earnings call for a defense of political ads, arguing that they were free speech that was worth standing up for — even if this type of advertising was unpopular, and not all that meaningful in terms of revenues.

Zuckerberg said that he had spent a lot of time considering whether Facebook should ban political advertising, and that he would continue to do so. Ads from politicians are less than 0.5% of Facebook’s overall revenue, he added. However, getting rid of political advertising altogether may not be that easy, Zuckerberg suggested. “It’s hard to define where to draw the line,” he said.

Facebook’s chief exec also seemed to suggest that demands to ditch political advertising were politically motivated — a thinly veiled reference to the fact that the Trump re-election campaign has been spending heavily on Facebook. “A lot of people told us, you gotta pick a side,” he said. “We can’t make a decision that way.”

Zuckerberg readily admitted that the decision to stick with political advertising was controversial. “This may lead to more investigations, and the candidates may criticize us,” he said, adding that 2020 was shaping up to be “a very tough year” for the company.

Investors seemed to shrug off Zuckerberg’s worries, sending Facebook’s share price up more than 3% in after-hours trading on news of better-than-expected Q3 results.

Facebook generated revenue of $17.7 billion during its most recent fiscal quarter, compared to $13.7 billion during the same quarter a year ago. The company’s net income for the quarter was $6 billion, compared to $5.2 billion a year ago. This translates to earnings of $2.12 per share.

Analysts had expected earnings of $1.91 per share on revenue of $17.3 billion.

Facebook’s daily active users were 1.62 billion on average for September 2019, compared to 1.5 billion a year ago. Monthly actives increased to 2.45 billion, up from 2.27 billion in Q3 of 2018. The company said that 2.2B people use one its services every day, with 2.8 billion people using Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger every month.

Facebook only began to report this “family of apps” data point more recently as a way to show continued momentum as growth for its core app plateaus; in Q2, daily actives across its apps were 2.1 billion, and monthly actives were 2.7 billion, respectively.