Facebook posts solid 3Q despite rising regulatory threats

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook reported solid third-quarter results Wednesday showing steady growth in its user base even as it faces broad regulatory threats and criticism over its power and negative effects on society.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg lauded the company’s financial performance before launching into an impassioned monologue about principles and free speech during a conference call with analysts. The call began less than an hour after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his company is banning all political ads from its platform, a challenge to Facebook, which has so far stood by its much-criticized decision not to fact check such ads.

“Today is certainly a historical moment of social tension, and I view an important role of our company as defending free expression,” Zuckerberg said. Right now, he added, the debate is about political ads, saying that while he has considered whether to ban such ads from Facebook, “on balance so far I’ve thought we should continue.”

Though grappling with big societal issues and regulators breathing down its neck, Facebook continued to grow profit and sales in the double digits during the quarter. Facebook said that it earned $6.09 billion, or $2.12 per share, in the July-September period, up 19% from $5.14 billion, or $1.76 per share, in the same period a year earlier.

Revenue grew 29% to $17.65 billion from $13.73 billion. Analysts on FactSet had expected earnings of $2.11 per share and revenue of $17.37 billion.

Facebook ended the quarter with 2.45 billion monthly users, up 8% from a year earlier. It also said that about 2.8 billion people use at least one of its services — Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram — at least once a month.

“Advertisers continue to support Facebook, despite the many controversies swirling around the company, and the user base also continues to expand around the world,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. “Yes, Facebook has a lot of challenges it must deal with, but increasing its revenue and user count isn’t one of them.”

The company based in Menlo Park, California, has had a rough couple of years and is under growing regulatory scrutiny around the world. In the U.S., it faces several government investigations for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, including probes by the Federal Trade Commission and 46 state attorneys general.

Zuckerberg faced prickly questioning from members of Congress last week when he testified about the company’s plans for a digital cryptocurrency.

Investors sent Facebook’s stock up 4% in after-hours trading following the earnings report.

Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press