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Facebook warns ‘increased engagement’ during lockdowns may not last

Facebook has reported a leap in user numbers as many of its key territories entered lockdown conditions to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The tech firm said it had seen “increased engagement” in the first quarter of the year but, like Google 24 hours earlier, admitted advertising revenues had taken a hit as the COVID-19 uncertainty began.

It reported almost three billion monthly users, on average, across its family of apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger at the end of the three months to March.

May 1, 2018 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California
Image: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors the company was focused on keeping people ‘safe, informed and connected’

That represented a 10% increase on the same quarter last year.

There were 1.73 billion users active on Facebook daily over the same period – a rise of 11%.

Total revenue rose to $17.7bn from $15.1bn – with net profits doubling to $4.9bn – despite a slide in advertising sales over the final weeks of the period as marketing budgets were slashed amid uncertainty over the economic landscape.

The company added that ad sales had recovered, to be flat on the previous year, in April but it refused to provide a revenue forecast for the current second quarter or full year, citing the interruption to business as we know it.

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Shares, which gained 7% in normal trading ahead of the results release, added another 9% in extended deals.

The company said of its record user numbers: “People around the world sheltered in place and used our products to connect with the people and organisations they care about.

“We expect that we will lose at least some of this increased engagement when various shelter-in-place restrictions are relaxed in the future.”

It said of its efforts to keep user numbers up: “We are making our apps more efficient and adding capacity, while also prioritising enhancements in key services, such as real-time video experiences and live game-streaming.”

The company pointed to the creation of its in-app COVID-19 information centre as evidence it was attempting to keep people informed and safe during the outbreak following sharp criticism that the sector has not done enough to boost safety tools and tackle harmful content more widely.

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