When Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage on Tuesday at F8, Facebook’s big annual conference, I expect him to gesture briefly at the troubles of the last year and a half, and then look grandly forward, talking up the future of augmented and virtual reality, the company’s commitments to fostering “community,” and Facebook’s growth outside the United States.
It will feel a little strange. Wasn’t this company “besieged,” “beleaguered,” and “beset” by problems mere days ago? Haven’t they experienced a brutal 18 months since the 2016 U.S. presidential election set off what The Economist (among others) called a “techlash”?
Facebook metabolized these criticisms, and turned them into fuel for what they say is a renewed sense of their mission. Take a look at Facebook’s newest ad. It explicitly calls out the problems of clickbait and fake news on the platform, but then concludes, over a montage of milestone videos, “When this place does what it was built for, we all get a little closer.” Facebook has retrenched into its core mission, which is to “connect people,” as the company has defined it.
In the end, maybe none of it mattered. Not the congressional hearing. Not the leaked Cambridge Analytica documents. Not serving as the primary conduit for Russian disinformation campaigns. Not fake news. Not conservative consternation about the liberal politics of the company’s employees. Not the preparations for complying with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. Not the UN special rapporteur hitting Facebook for contributing to the Rohingya’s plight in Myanmar. Not the anti-monopoly criticisms aimed at the company. Not yesterday’s resignation of WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum.
For those inside Facebook, it helps that, at a quantitative level, none of its trials have shown up in the data. Facebook’s performance last quarter was a corporate triumph. Their net income was the highest in Facebook history at just about $5 billion. Monthly users were up; daily users were up; the ratio between the two remained unchanged. They generated almost $4 billion more revenue in the first quarter of 2018 than the first quarter of 2017. Their margins were up year over year. By any metric, this was what the analysts would call a blowout quarter. Shares jumped, of course. And now, they’ve recovered most of what they lost in the immediate fallout of the Cambridge Analytica revelations.