Today the Federal Trade Commission, along with the attorneys general from 48 states and territories officially filed two antitrust lawsuits against Facebook. The FTC alleges the social media giant has systematically been engaging in anti-competitive practices. The lawsuit states, “After identifying two significant competitive threats to its dominant position—Instagram and WhatsApp—Facebook moved to squelch those threats by buying the companies, reflecting a view CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s expressed in a 2008 email, ‘it is better to buy than compete.’”
Both targets of these lawsuits—Instagram and WhatsApp—were acquired by Facebook in 2012 and 2014 respectively with the FTC’s approval. The goal is to break up the monopoly Facebook currently holds according to the House Antitrust Subcommittee, which would result in Facebook divesting both apps.
The FTC alleges Facebook’s practices of buying companies that pose potential threats have protected them from competition, and given them too much power. In recent years, FTC says Facebook has extensively collected user data, spread misinformation and disinformation including dangerous conspiracy theories, and has the ability to manipulate human emotions and decision making which has potentially affected presidential elections. They also noted the media giant has previously made attempts to purchase Twitter and Snapchat.
Facebook is claiming, without them, Instagram and WhatsApp would not have been nearly as successful as they are, and that the acquisitions of these apps are exactly what has made them so influential. They claim that the commission trying to reverse past acquisitions would harm consumers, cost the government billions of dollars, and defy the law previously established.
In past years the FTC has been criticized for not doing enough to mitigate the extreme dominance held by powerful tech companies and it seems they are starting to take those critiques more seriously. It should also be noted that just weeks ago, the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google’s search business.