Facebook′s numbers don′t convince everyone | In Depth | DW | 26.04.2019
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In Depth

Facebook's numbers don't convince everyone

Facebook's latest financial figures have excited analysts. But cyberactivists like Markus Beckedahl say the company must do much more to combat the spread of fake news.

Facebook's latest quarterly figures have business analysts and traders excited. Frank Geilfuss, chief economist at Löbbecke bank, told DW the numbers "they are excellent." Above all, Geilfuss said he was surprised by the reported increase in the number of active Facebook users per month.

Over the past three months, about 60 million new users joined the online platform, increasing total membership to 2.38 billion. And when all of Facebook's various services and platforms, like messaging service WhatsApp and the photo and video sharing platform Instagram, are taken into account, the company has some 2.7 billion open accounts. Of these, 2.1 billion access Facebook's services daily.

Read more: New Zealand seeks answers from Facebook over livestreamed massacre

Rising share price despite data scandals

Geilfuss said he welcomes the company's broad range of products. That's why he called "Facebook a company with great potential for the future." After all, some 70% of Americans between the age of 15 and 35 use Instagram.

A person reads a Facebook message on a cell phone (Getty Images/AFP/I. Kasamani)

Africa is a major growth market for Facebook

At the same time, Facebook estimated that the latest string of data scandals will cost it up to $5 billion (€4.4 billion). It earmarked $3 billion last quarter for possible fines in connection to ongoing investigations by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Though this sum should not be an issue for the company that has $45 billion in reserves. That is most likely one of the reasons why analysts like Geilfuss have such confidence in the company.

Beckedahl: Facebook partly to blame for populism

But Markus Beckedahl, a Berlin-based journalist and cyberactivist, said it's worth looking at more than Facebook's revenue figures. He told DW that the social platform has failed to take responsibility following its many scandals, "Facebook has been rocked by scandals since its foundation – but has always just carried on without ever changing anything."

Read more: Cyberbullying: 'There are no safe spaces anymore'

Beckedahl highlighted the societal costs of Facebook's business model, saying that many of Facebook's services are optimized to generate and amplify attention.

"This leads to polemical and angry texts being shared more commonly, which is why I think Facebook plays an instrumental part in the rise of populism today," Beckedahl said.

Markus Beckedahl (DW)

Activist Beckedahl doesn't think Facebook is making effective changes

Most new Facebook users are based in Asia and Africa. Beckedahl criticized that market access is not universally regulated, stressing that many Asian and African internet providers like partnering with Facebook. He said all internet services should be treated equally so as not to further strengthen Facebook's monopoly.

Facebook has too few fact-checkers

In many countries of the world, Beckedahl said, people have come to regard Facebook as the entire internet. In Nigeria, for example, up to a third of all people use the social platform. He said that for many Nigerians, "Facebook is synonymous with the internet."

Read more: 15 years on, is it time to #DeleteFacebook?

Yet the company has just four fact-checkers and content moderators employed to monitor the Nigerian cyberspace – even though there have been riots and deaths in some parts of the country because of fake news and hate-filled post on Facebook.

"Facebook never felt responsible for any of this," Beckedahl said.

People stand silhouetted in front of an Instagram symbol (Reuters/D. Ruvic)

Instagram, owned by Facebook, is highly popular among younger social media users in the US

He added that the platform also played a major role in the spreading of fake news in India, where posts lead to violent riots. Beckedahl also criticized that the company has so far invested very little in its operations in these countries, even though "national Facebook teams should be able to understand dialects in order to verify fake news."

There is a glimmer of hope, however: last year, Facebook grew its workforce from 35,600 to almost 37,800. And the company has officially announced that it is designating ever larger teams to delete unwanted and illegal content from its platform.

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