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In a nutshell: Like so many online services, Facebook has seen a surge in usage since the coronavirus lockdowns. It might sound like good news for the company, but the increases are concentrated on its private messaging and video calling, which it doesn't monetize, and its ad business is suffering in countries hit hardest by COVID-19.
As we've seen with work-from-home software, streaming services, and Steam, self-isolation and quarantine rules implemented around the world have resulted in Facebook usage skyrocketing. The social media firm has experienced a 50 percent increase in messaging traffic in certain countries, and video calls on Messenger and WhatsApp in these locations have more than doubled. Group calls, meanwhile, were up 1,000 percent last month.
In Italy, where more than 6,000 people have died from the coronavirus, there has been a 70 percent increase in time spent on Facebook-owned apps such as Instagram.
It might seem that Facebook is going to profit from the lockdowns, but the opposite is true. "We don't monetize many of the services where we're seeing increased engagement, and we've seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19," wrote Alex Schultz, VP of Analytics, and Jay Parikh, VP of Engineering.
Facebook says the spike in usage has been more challenging than usual because of its employees working from home, but it's working to keep its apps running smoothly. "We're monitoring usage patterns carefully, making our systems more efficient, and adding capacity as required," explained the company. To help lighten the load, it is temporarily reducing bit rates for Facebook and Instagram videos in certain regions, something Amazon, Apple TV+, and Netflix have also done.