In a clear escalation in the war Facebook faces over its dominance in the social media landscape, the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of 48 states' attorneys general are suing to break the company up.
The two separate lawsuits claim that in its acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp two years later, Facebook effectively snuffed out its competition in a "systematic strategy" that has left it to be an illegal monopoly in the social media space.
New York Attorney General Leticia James, who has led the states' investigation that dates back 18 months, said at a press conference Wednesday, "It's really critically important that we block this predatory acquisition of companies and that we restore confidence to the market."
The states' suit, led by New York, includes 45 other states, the District of Columbia, and Guam.
And the suits come a week after the Department of Justice filed suit against Facebook over its allegedly biased practices — biased against American workers — in hiring under the H1-B visa program. In October, the DoJ also filed an antitrust suit against Google.
Ms. James further claims in the states' suit that Facebook had a practice of opening up its platforms to third-party developers, and then abruptly cutting off that access if the developers appeared to become too much of a competitive treat.
Facebook has been under fire on multiple fronts for multiple years, and for good reason — with the Cambridge Analytica debacle of 2018 being the most high-profile chapter. Last year, the FTC slapped Facebook with a record-breaking $5 billion fine for its violations of consumer data privacy. And the presidential campaign trail going back to last fall was full of calls — especially from Senator Elizabeth Warren — to break up Facebook, in part because Mark Zuckerberg has become far too powerful in impacting national discourse.
The last few weeks have featured stories about how Facebook seemed to be failing in its promise to curb post-election misinformation, in particular from President Trump — who everyone knew was going to to try to lie his way out of not losing.
Facebook has 2.7 billion users worldwide, and a market valuation of $800 billion these days. It bought Instagram eight years ago with Zuckerberg claiming the two companies would be run independently, but the abrupt 2018 departure of Instagram's founders undermined that. And, Zuckerberg announced two years ago that the backend messaging of Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp would all be integrated — a process that is well underway, and which the Associated Press notes could make it extremely difficult to break the platforms up (which may have been a goal).
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