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Facebook shrinks in North America

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Facebook reported its fourth quarter earnings today, and they showcased both the enormous strength of
 
January 31 · Issue #73 · View online
The Interface
Facebook reported its fourth quarter earnings today, and they showcased both the enormous strength of its core business and the essential vulnerability of its platform. The strength manifested in revenue growth of 47 percent from a year earlier, which beat Wall Street’s expectations. The vulnerability manifested in two points emphasized in two Recode headlines from today:
The first story lays out a small but notable decline. Here’s Kurt Wagner and Rani Molla:
Facebook’s daily active user base in the U.S. and Canada fell for the first time ever in the fourth quarter, dropping to 184 million from 185 million in the previous quarter.
It’s a very small decline in a market that Facebook already dominates. But it’s also Facebook’s most valuable market, and any decline in usership — even a small one — isn’t a great sign. 
The second contains the day’s second-most interesting statistic: time spent on Facebook declined about 5 percent in the past quarter. In a note to investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the wound was self-inflicted: Facebook reduced the amount of “viral videos” in the feed, he said in a note to investors, in the hopes that reducing “passive consumption” would make users happier over time. 
“In 2018, we’re focused on making sure Facebook isn’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being and for society. We’re doing this by encouraging meaningful connections between people rather than passive consumption of content. Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day. By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term.”
This is one side of Facebook — the one the company has been actively promoting over the past year. This is the Facebook that is chastened by the events of the 2016 election, and humbled by the cultural reckoning over social media. This is the Facebook devoted to stronger connections with friends, bred by “meaningful interactions.”
But there’s another side of Facebook, too — the one that expresses an existential terror when you don’t visit it for a while. Here’s Sarah Frier in Bloomberg:
Facebook, which has more than 2 billion people logging in monthly, has never failed to grow its user base. To beat investors’ expectations consistently on user numbers, it’s just as important for the company to retain people like Gorantala as it is to recruit new members. People who are logging into Facebook less often—but aren’t fully disconnected—are noticing more and more frequent prompts to come back, sometimes multiple times a day, via emails or text messages reminding them what they’re missing out on, according to screenshots and reports from users around the world. Gorantala, who eased off his Facebook usage because of privacy concerns, said his security prompt comes “whenever I don’t log in for a few days.”
Even with regular users, Facebook has become thirstier for posts. The social network’s reminder boxes at the top of the news feed, which often show memories or anniversaries of friendship with close pals, have recently become real estate for more trivial milestones—like being tagged in 10 photos with someone or getting 100 heart reactions.
If you use Facebook regularly, this likely feels familiar. No amount of Facebook usage ever seems, to Facebook, like enough. I disabled Facebook notifications on my mobile app last year, after being told, on a day that I had already checked Facebook many times, that a friend of mine had commented on his own photo. And I still have notifications turned on for Instagram, which systematically informs me about every Facebook friend who has an Instagram account, no matter how many dozens of times I ignore them. (This is how we can collectively spend 50 million fewer hours per day on Facebook and notice it not at all: it’s the equivalent of one fewer viral video watched per user per day.)
We’re left with two Facebooks: one, the champion of meaningful interactions; and two, the world’s largest producer of push notifications. At some point, these two ideas will have to meet. 
Facebook’s stated focus on time well spent is welcome. But as Frier’s story illustrates, the company’s engagement-grubbing roots run deep. How Facebook reconciles that aspect of the company with the one now writing earnest notes to investors is one of the more provocative dilemmas now playing out at the company. And if it can’t, the North American user base may well shrink again.

Democracy
Democrats slammed Facebook and Twitter’s responses on the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign - Recode
Twitter Now Says 1.4 Million People Interacted With Kremlin-Linked Troll Accounts During 2016 Campaign
Court: No evidence that Twitter can be blamed for deaths in ISIS attack
Tackling the Internet’s Central Villain: The Advertising Business
The GOP Amtrak train wreck is already inspiring YouTube conspiracy vid
Facebook Pushes ‘False Flag’ Amtrak Conspiracies in Trending Section
Elsewhere
Toutiao Sues Baidu For Unfair Competition Over Negative Search Results
James Altucher, the face of bitcoin, says he’s happy about Facebook’s bitcoin ban
California court swipes left on Tinder charging more for users over 30
YouTube TV becomes official video partner for LA’s new Major League Soccer team
Gfycat starts removing fake AI porn GIFs from its platform
Launches
WhatsApp Desktop for Windows 10 is now available for download
Takes
Instagram Is Turning Into Facebook, and That’s Bad
Playing to Our Strengths
And finally ...
A single YouTube channel is flooding Bing’s video search with fake news
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Push notifications begging me to come back? casey@theverge.com 
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