Facebook reported a big jump in profits even though people are spending less time on the world's biggest social network. The company said its priority is to encourage personal interaction among users, rather than simply boost the number of hours they spend on Facebook. Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said changes enacted by Facebook cut time spent on the site by some 50 million hours per day. But Facebook's chief operating officer argued that having users engage more with friends' posts could lead to further financial opportunities for the company.
"Helping people connect is more important than maximizing the time they spend on Facebook," Zuckerberg said during an earnings call. He said that in the last couple of years, content from viral videos or posts by businesses have grown to a point where it is "crowding out the connections people value most."
Facebook is giving posts from friends and family priority over content that is not as likely to engender genuine personal interactions, according to Zuckerberg.
"We made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people's time is well spent," Zuckerberg said.
"In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day."
Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said that getting people to engage with more posts by friends actually ramped up opportunities for the social network to make money. Facebook shares dropped more than four percent after the earnings figures were released, but regained lost ground and even rose slightly to $189.30 in after-market trades that followed the earnings call. Facebook said that profit in the final three months of last year climbed 20 percent to $4.26 billion as both ad revenue and ranks of members grew. Revenue in the quarter leapt 47 percent to nearly $13 billion, but expenses also rose as its ranks of employees grew to finish the year at 25,105 workers. Facebook said the number of monthly active users hit 2.13 billion in the past quarter, up 14 percent from a year ago.