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Facebook’s Business Is Succeeding Despite the Controversies

Dublin Tech SummitDublin Tech Summit
A woman uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Facebook stand during the Dublin Tech Summit. Niall Carson - PA Images PA Images via Getty Images

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

The up-to-$5-billion fine Facebook may have to pay the Federal Trade Commission is what journalists call a man-bites-dog story. It is remarkable, newsworthy, and otherwise unusual that the online publisher thinks it will be punished by a Trumpian regulatory agency for violating an earlier privacy agreement. The potential fine, because it is so extraordinary, dominated news coverage of Facebook’s quarterly financial results, released Wednesday.

I encourage you this morning instead to pay attention to the dog-bites-man aspect of the Facebook’s news, the humdrum account of what Facebook accomplished financially. Revenues jumped 26% to $15 billion. Companywide monthly active users ticked up 8% to 2.38 billion. Facebook employs nearly 38,000 people, 36% more than the year before. It generated $9.3 billion in cash from operations, an 18% increase from the year before.

This performance reinforces the notion that coastal elites and government agencies have a hard time grasping: Facebook’s cash-generating products are as popular as ever. The company is genuinely under attack by powerful and loud critics. This will have a meaningful impact on the company’s bottom line.

But Facebook (FB) can take it because it is so good at what it does, which includes presciently buying other companies.


In 2003 Stephen Breyer, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke at what was then called Fortune’s Brainstorm conference in Aspen, Colo. His was one of two sessions deemed off-the-record. (The other featured former President Bill Clinton.) I can’t remember what Breyer spoke about, but it was fascinating. Later that day I spotted him in hiking attire about to hit the trails. I introduced myself and told him I wished he’d spoken on the record to our audience and that the Supreme Court generally did more to allow the public to see how it operated. He told me televising its proceedings would be a terrible idea and that his friend Ted Koppel agreed with him: Exposure would only cheapen the court’s serious efforts.

I thought about that brief exchange while reading this interview with Brian Lamb, the founder of C-Span, who is retiring. He makes a compelling case for broadcasting Supreme Court arguments. It was another great jurist, Louis Brandeis, who famously said “sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” I wish I’d quoted that line to Breyer when I had the chance.