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A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

The state of Facebook

Facebook posted $3.6 billion in profit in the last three months of 2016… $4.3 billion in Q4 2017… and $6.9 billion in Q4 2018.

And if that’s not impressive enough, there’s this: FB “now has 1.52 billion people who use the social network every single day, and 2.32 billion who use it every month, both of which are up 9% from the year prior,” CNN’s Seth Fiegerman wrote Wednesday. His takeaway from the earnings: “Facebook’s endless PR crises don’t appear to be hurting its bottom line.”

Here’s how other sites are framing it: “Users aren’t abandoning the company in large numbers even as its data-privacy practices have been under attack,” the WSJ wrote. “Facebook keeps growing despite scandals and privacy outrage,” The Verge wrote.

FB moving back onto offense?

Until 4 p.m. ET, the company was having another bruising day, full of headlines about this controversial market research app. Apple said the app violated its policies.

But the earnings report allowed Mark Zuckerberg to, on the earnings call, say things like “we’ve started to turn a corner and have a clear plan for what we need to do now.” He also remarked that “there’s a lot of negativity about technology,” saying “Some of it is fair,” but “some of it is misplaced.”

>> LOOKING AHEAD: FB wants to “increase commerce activity” on Instagram and “make more money from Stories…”

>> STOCK WATCH: FB shares are up more than 10% in after-hours trading.

Yes, but…

Usage in U.S. & Canada remains flat

The company’s daily active user # in the United States and Canada has remained stagnant at 185 million since mid-2017… In Q4 2018, it ticked up just slightly to 186 million…

The real test: Do your family members still log into FB?

My family does. How about yours? “People love talking about the death of Facebook only being partially offset by the rise of Instagram,” BTIG’s Rich Greenfield commented to me Wednesday night. “But it’s far harder to leave Facebook than most on Wall Street and the broader tech/media community realize – the proof is the robust 30% revenue growth Facebook delivered as advertisers continue to follow eyeballs, with Facebook’s CFO implying core (blue) Facebook usage is relatively stable.”

Still a “vast” list of problems

“While 4Q18 was certainly favorable,” Brian Wieser wrote to investors Wednesday night, “nothing in the results should cause investors to look at the company in a meaningfully different way vs. previously… The list of problems the company is grappling with is vast, and the shapes of solutions are unclear…

NY Attorney General targets fake social media activity

This settlement on Wednesday is “the first finding by a law enforcement agency” indicating that the sale of fake social media posts and comments “constitutes illegal deception and illegal impersonation,” CNN’s Athena Jones reported.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the settlement with a now-defunct company Devumi, which “sold fake followers, ‘likes’ and views on platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, SoundCloud and Pinterest, using activity from fake accounts.” Devumi was exposed by this NYT report last year…

→ NYT’s Nicholas Confessore: “James’ investigation could set the stage for further crackdowns on rampant consumer fraud and deceit on social media platforms…”

Cheddar’s pilot episode with Reddit

Cheddar and Reddit have struck a deal to try a video version of “Ask Me Anything.” The two brands are launching a “pilot episode” of a 20-minute show called “ChedChats With,” an on-camera AMA Q&A. This first episode will feature “Game of Thrones” director David Nutter… He’ll answer Q’s from Redditors and sit down for an in-depth interview with Cheddar… If it’s well-received, expect to see more episodes…

FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE

– Some of AT&T’s Q4 #’s fell short of expectations… But the WarnerMedia division “posted solid profitability gains…” (Variety)

– Amazon will report earnings after the bell on Thursday… (CNBC)

– New hires at Forbes: Kerry Lauerman, most recently of Mic, will be executive editor of news; Dawn Chmielewski will be senior editor of tech, media and entertainment; Jillian D’Onfro will be a staff writer covering tech…

– What does BuzzFeed look like post-layoffs? Max Willens has answers here… (Digiday)

Getting colder

Wednesday night’s nightly news ledes for the second day in a row: The “life-threatening freeze” (NBC), “deadly polar vortex” (ABC), “deadly deep freeze” (CBS).

An Phung emails: I reached out to some former colleagues at NBC Chicago to see what’s been resonating online with their readers – and the answers are very telling. It further underscores the importance of local news during a weather crisis like this.

The stories that drove the most traffic on Wednesday included live coverage from local meteorologists and practical news-you-can-use stories (what’s closed due to weather, canceled flights, what you need to know to stay safe in dangerous cold, deep freeze car dangers, where this ranks against all-time coldest temps in Chicago). On social, a post comparing the temperature to Alaska and one that counts down to summer did very well…

More: For journalists in the region working on stories about this brutal weather, Poynter’s Tom Jones has a good tip here…

FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO

– “Trump cheers as Dow breaks 25,000 – for the third time…” (CNN)

– The top headline from Sarah Sanders’ interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network: God “wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s there…” (CNN)

– New from Maxwell Tani: How Donald Trump Jr.’s fixer Arthur Schwartz”wages war against the media.” The way Schwartz reacted to Tani tells you a lot about the conservative media ecosystem… (Beast)

– Right-wing-media-watcher Howard Polskin says “Breitbart’s traffic has fallen dramatically and it can’t seem to get up…” (The Righting)

Put yourself in an exec producer’s shoes…

What’s the 8 p.m. lead? MSNBC went with “New cracks in GOP support of Trump and border wall” and “Trump mocks his own intelligence chiefs on Twitter.” (I’m quoting the banners here.) Fox News went with “Dems push late-term abortion bills,” reflecting conservative outcry about a failed abortion bill in Virginia.

And CNN went with “Special counsel: Russians altering evidence in Mueller probe to discredit investigation.” This is really an astonishing story – about a pro-Russian Twitter account using non-public material from Robert Mueller’s team to discredit probe. Here’s Katelyn Polantz’s full story for CNN.com…

Trump is laying low…

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes noted, in a critical way, that “Trump has not held a public event in five days. He has been holed up in the White House rage tweeting about whatever he sees on Trump TV…”

…But he’s talking to The Daily Caller

Trump gave an interview to Vince Coglianese and Saagar Enjeti on Wednesday… Among the takeaways, “Trump said he will leave decisions on how to handle the Mueller report to the Justice Department…”

Trump v. Intel

“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” POTUS tweeted on Wednesday, clearly peeved that the intelligence chiefs he appointed were publicly contradicting him about a host of issues.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins is out with new reporting about this — the CNN.com headline is “Trump singles out director of national intelligence” — she says Trump “was furious Wednesday as he watched television chyrons blare that the officials had contradicted him.”

More: “The President was more frustrated with the coverage than the assessments of the intelligence chiefs, who brief him on national security matters regularly…”

Cuomo’s take

“If the president is distorting the facts about national security, his distorted reality is, in itself, arguably a national security threat,” Chris Cuomo said on CNN Wednesday night. “So whom should we believe: the nation’s top intel officers, who closely monitor our threats, or the president, who doesn’t read or heed daily warnings…”

FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE

– 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg on TV: He’ll be on “CBS This Morning” and “The View” on Thursday…

Read more of Wednesday’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…

– Rep. Eric Swalwell will be in N.H. on Thursday… He told CNN “he is close to making a decision…”