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As Facebook tries to make the world ‘closer,’ business booms

Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to repair the social network’s image. The good news? It’s still making tons of money.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to polish up the social network's image.
James Martin/CNET

Mark Zuckerberg last month stepped onstage in Chicago to talk about a nicer, gentler Facebook -- one that wasn't just intent on "making the world more open and connected," as he's often said, but taking it a step further: "Bringing the world closer together."

Facebook, he said, wants to strengthen people's relationships and help them connect over common interests -- online and in real life.

Whether you buy into the message or not, the new mantra was the focal point of the inaugural Facebook Communities Summit, a gathering for Facebook Groups leaders trying to help people connect. It was an important gathering for CEO Zuckerberg and his team as they deal with controversies ranging from violence being broadcast on their video livestream service, Facebook Live, to fake news spreading on the world's biggest social network.

But there's another aspect to connecting people that Facebook doesn't talk about as often: It's good for business.

That point was clearly made on Wednesday, when Facebook reported earnings results that topped Wall Street's expectations. In second quarter ended June 30, it said sales were up 45 percent to $9.3 billion, surpassing analyst estimates of $9.2 billion. Profit was also up, surging 69 percent to $1.32 a share to beat estimates of $1.13. Facebook also said it has 2.01 billion monthly users, with 1.32 billion visiting the site every day. 

"We're proud of the progress we're making," Zuckerberg said during a conference call with analysts. "And it also comes with a responsibility to make sure that we have the most positive impact on the world that we can." 

Part of Facebook's success for the quarter came from the company's focus on mobile and video. Mobile ad sales were $8 billion, making up around 87 percent of Facebook's total ad sales. 

But while business is booming now, the company also said there will be a slowdown in advertising sales growth beginning in the second half of the year. That's because the company has started to limit the amount of ads you'll see in your news feed. So, Facebook has been ramping up advertising in its other apps, including the photo-sharing site Instagram and the chat app Facebook Messenger. 

"I want to see us move a little faster here, but I'm confident we're gonna get this right in the long term," Zuckerberg said regarding making money off of its chat apps Messenger and WhatsApp. 

But the company emphasized that advertising on Messenger is still in its infancy. CFO David Wehner said those efforts would not offset the ad growth slowdown on the Facebook app. 

Cleaning up the image

The latest earnings report comes as Zuckerberg grapples with the company's outsized influence. Some of President Donald Trump's detractors blamed fake news circulating on Facebook for tilting the scales in his favor last November. Facebook Live is also a lightning rod for criticism. One of the latest controversies happened earlier this month, when two Mississippi teens reportedly sexually assaulted a woman live on Facebook.  

Facebook's new mantra is just one of the ways the company has been trying to clean up its image. Zuckerberg has been on a whirlwind tour of the US, meeting people outside the insular bubble of Silicon Valley. In his travels, he's met with Ford factory workers in Michigan, cattle farmers in Wisconsin and community leaders in New Orleans.

Zuckerberg's also been trying to appear more accessible. Over the weekend, he did a Facebook Live question-and-answer session while grilling up brisket and ribs in his backyard.

But as Facebook tries to fight the stigma of its darker side, for now the company continues to rake in the cash -- which tends to mask those other troubles.

First published on July 26 at 1:32 p.m. PT.
Updated, 3:20 p.m. PT: Adds comments and more information from Facebook's conference call. 

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