Court documents reveal just how much money Instagram makes for Meta—and it’s a lot

The ‘Gram is doing a lot of heavy lifting for Meta.

That’s one of the key takeaways from court documents filed by Meta last week, as the company attempts to get a federal antitrust lawsuit dismissed. Specifically, the documents say that Instagram generated advertising revenue totaling $32.4 billion in 2021, and $16.5 billion during the first half of 2022—up from $11.3 billion for all of 2018.

The $32.4 billion in 2021 comprised 27% of Meta’s overall revenue that year. The revelations show that Instagram is Meta’s cash cow, and likely will continue to be for some time, even as it competes with similar social media networks and apps such as TikTok. 

But the court filings also contained some additional interesting data points:

  • R&D costs: In 2022, Meta spent more than $35 billion on research and development across its business. Between 2012 and 2023, the filings say that Meta “spent approximately $126.25 billion” on R&D.
  • More R&D: Further, Meta invested 29% of total revenues into R&D in 2022 and 2023, which, it says, is more (proportionately) than Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple.
  • Facebook’s evolution: It can be easy to forget how sprawling the Facebook ecosystem is. The filing notes that Meta “released more than 160 new features on Facebook between September 2011 and July 2023,” which include Facebook Stories, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Live, and more.
  • Facebook’s still a time suck: The amount of time users spend on Facebook has increased significantly over the years, and the filing says monthly time on the platform in the U.S. “more than doubled from 2012 to 2022.”

There are plenty of other nuggets from the 295-page filing, but again, the filing itself is a part of a larger and lengthy battle with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over antitrust concerns. Meta’s filing argues that the case should be tossed since the FTC has not been able to prove that consumers have been harmed. In fact, Meta’s chief legal officer, Jennifer Newstead, writes that “our acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp have benefited consumers.”

The FTC will need to respond to the latest filings by the end of May. In the meantime, the court documents do show that Instagram remains Meta’s most profitable and strongest asset, especially when it comes to younger users. Data from Pew Research, published in December, shows that 59% of teens in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 17 use Instagram—roughly equal with Snapchat (60%) and TikTok (63%). 

Meta’s other two big platforms, Facebook and WhatsApp, are used by only 33% and 21% of teens, respectively, per Pew’s data.