Mark Zuckerberg Predicts "More Investigations" of Facebook Over Speech Policy

Mark Zuckerberg - Getty - H 2019
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The exec said that he does not want the social platform to "censor politicians or the news," though he boasted of taking down false claims originating from Russia and Iran.

Facebook said Wednesday it had 1.62 billion daily active users in the most recent quarter, up 9 percent from a year earlier and 2.45 billion monthly active users, up 8 percent, news that sent the stock 4 percent higher in after-hours trading, though CEO Mark Zuckerberg probably spent more time talking about politics and free speech than user metrics during a conference call with analysts.

The exec said that he does not want Facebook to "censor politicians or the news," though he boasted of taking down false claims originating from Russia and Iran. Facebook's policy about political speech and advertising are based on "doing what is right," not on money, he said.

"Some people say that this is just all a cynical, political calculation, and that we don't really believe — because we're just trying to appease conservatives, and that's wrong, too," Zuckerberg said. "We get a lot of criticism from both progressives and conservatives. Frankly, if our goal were trying to make either side happy, then we're not doing a very good job, because I'm pretty sure everyone is frustrated with us."

The CEO added: "Our values on voice and free expression are not partisan. But, unfortunately, in our current environment, a lot of people look at every decision through the lens of whether it will help or hurt the candidate they want."

Facebook posted adjusted earnings per share of $2.12 and revenue of $17.65 billion, both of which were above the expectations of Wall Street analysts. The financial results come as the company finds itself dealing with Congress and others over how it turns its user data into advertising sales, as well as how it polices the activity on its platform, especially as it relates to political speech.

"A lot of people told us, 'You gotta pick a side, or else both sides are just going to cause a lot of problems for you.' And, sadly, from a practical perspective, they may be right," Zuckerberg said. "Over the next year of campaigns, we're going to be at the center of the debate ... this may lead to more investigations and the candidates are going to criticize us. I expect that this is going to be a very tough year ... this is complex stuff and anyone who says that the answers are simple hasn't thought long enough about all the nuances."

He further said: "While we work hard to remove content that can cause real danger, we also need to be careful about adopting more and more rules that restrict the way that people can speak and what they can say."

Zuckerberg said that in most cases the political ads on Facebook also appear on other online platforms and on television. "Ads can be an important part of voice, especially for candidates and advocacy groups that the media might not otherwise cover," he added.

Previously, Facebook agreed to pay $5 billion to settle a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation related to data privacy, and it warned that new rules could slow revenue growth and raise expenses.

The company said Wednesday it employs 43,030 people, 28 percent more than it employed a year ago.

Facebook said 94 percent of its ad revenue came from mobile users, up from 92 percent from the same quarter last year, and that it has $52.3 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet.