Its most significant business crisis to date fails to tarnish Facebook’s earnings. Perhaps it’s time to admit something about ourselves we don’t want to face.
Facebook earnings just came out, and as it has nearly every quarter, the company crushed it. Many (including myself) were expecting at least some measurable effect on the company’s performance from the Cambridge Analytica train wreck, but the company seemed instead to pick up steam, booking a 63 percent increase in earnings year on year and beating Wall St. estimates by an astounding 34 cents a share. “Up yours, haters!” may not have been overtly stated on the earnings call, but I am quite certain there was plenty of that sentiment going around One Hacker Way today. In America — particularly Trump’s America, nothing washes away sins like unmitigated success. Oh, and money — lots and lots of money.
Facebook stock is already trading more than five percent up in after hours, and will likely pop on the open, as the investing public hastens to ride it back up to its pre-Cambridge Analytica highs. And why not? It’s Facebook’s time, after all. The company has taken its licks, apologized, and promised to do better. Zuck went to Washington, and new features seems to roll out almost daily — each promising one more “fix” for whatever was originally broken about the service.
It’s not Facebook’s fault that capitalism works the way it does. The bare truth is simply this: Facebook works for advertisers, which is another way of saying it works for business. And as long as it keeps doing that, business people aren’t going to stop using it. Period, end of sentence. The executives at Facebook know this, and as much as they’ve claimed they’re willing to impinge their business to “fix” their service, there’s simply no way they’ll actually going to roll out any changes that significantly change how their advertising model works. Regulation could “fix” it for them, but after Congress’ laughable performance earlier this month, that’s highly unlikely.
We’ll keep using Facebook. Advertisers will keep using Facebook. And Facebook will keep printing money. So what does this teach us about the role of data in society?
It’d be easy to be pessimistic if, like me, you believed that the Cambridge story marked a shift in how our we think about this most crucial social asset. But I’m not pessimistic, in fact, I’m somewhat heartened. More on why in the next column….