Facebook Inc faced harsh criticism in Washington on Wednesday over its failure to prevent Russian operatives from using its platform for election meddling, but the earnings report it issued hours later showed just how insulated its business remains from political risk.
The social network said its quarterly profit soared 79% and revenues were up nearly 50% in the third quarter as marketers poured money into Facebook’s advertising offerings, whose power to target and influence users has actually been showcased by the election scandal.
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg condemned Russia’s attempts to influence last year’s election through Facebook posts and advertisements designed to sow division, and repeated his pledge to ramp up spending to confront the problem.
Zuckerberg said that spending would include 10 000 additional people to review content on the network, though based on past practice many of those people will be contractors. The spending would hit profits, Facebook said, with expenses expected to grow by 45% to 60% next year.
“What they did is wrong, and we are not going to stand for it,” Zuckerberg said of the Russians, on a conference call with analysts.
The company’s share price, which hit a record $182.90earlier on Wednesday, initially rose in after-hours trading, but later fell into negative territory on discussion of the higher spending. Shares have gained almost 60% this year.
“While the investigations into Russian activity on the platform have been getting a lot of attention, they’re not detracting from Facebook’s power as an ad platform,” analyst Debra Aho Williamson of research firm eMarketer said in an interview.
The political storm in the United States over how Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google handle false news stories and political manipulation of their services gathered strength this week as three separate congressional committees held hearings.
Zuckerberg did not appear at the hearings. But lawmakers threatened tougher regulation and fired questions at Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, excoriating the company for beings low to act and slow to share what it knew with Congress.
The chief executive told analysts that legislation to force disclosure of election ads “would be very good if done well.”
In a series of disclosures over two months, Facebook has said that people in Russia bought at least 3 000 US political ads and published another 80 000 Facebook posts that were seen by as many as 126 million Americans over two years. Russia denies any meddling.