Facebook now thinks it’s good to spend less time on Facebook

Users are spending less time with the app, and Mark Zuckerberg says that's by design

Facebook claims in its latest earnings report that users spent 50 million total fewer hours on the social network last quarter. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that was no screw-up.

The company reported Wednesday that it generated $13 billion in revenue during the final three months of 2017, with a profit of about $4.2 billion, beating estimates. But the company’s stock is trading around 4.8 percent below its Wednesday close because of three sentences from Zuckerberg in Facebook’s earnings release:

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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.

Though Zuckerberg didn’t elaborate much on how “fewer viral videos” translated to “50 million fewer hours,” he has indicated in recent weeks that Facebook was going to show less content that people “passively” consumed, because Facebook’s own research now indicates that consuming content like that makes Facebook users feel bad.

But Wall Street is still taking the news badly, because the reason that Facebook is worth more than $540 billion is that 1.4 billion people look at Facebook daily, and if those people are consuming less content then that means they are seeing fewer ads.

Mark Zuckerberg seems perfectly content with that, for now, because Facebook is poised to soak up so much of the remaining growth left on mobile advertisers, as one half of the digital ad duopoly alongside Google. According to a December study from Pivotal Research, Facebook and Google accounted for 83 percent of all growth in the digital ad industry at one point last year.

Cover: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with a group of entrepreneurs and innovators during a round-table discussion at Cortex Innovation Community technology hub Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)