WASHINGTON – The Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states accused Facebook on Wednesday of becoming a social media monopoly by buying out rivals to crush the competition illegally. It said deals that turned the social network into a monster should be unwound.
Federal and state regulators, who have been investigating the company for more than 18 months, have said in separate lawsuits that Facebook’s purchases, especially Instagram’s for $ 1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $ 19 billion two years more later, eliminated the competition that might one day have challenged the dominance of the company.
Since these deals, Instagram and WhatsApp’s popularity has skyrocketed, giving Facebook control over three of the world’s most popular social media and messaging apps. The apps have helped catapult Facebook from a business started in a college dormitory 16 years ago to an internet powerhouse valued at over $ 800 billion.
Prosecutors called on Facebook to cut Instagram and WhatsApp and further restrictions on future deals.
“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and stifle competition, all to the detriment of everyday users,” said Attorney General Letitia James of New York, who led the multi-state investigation of the company in parallel with the federal agency.
The lawsuits, filed in U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia, highlight the growing bipartisan and international tsunami against Big Tech. Lawmakers and regulators have focused on the hold Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple maintain over online commerce, electronics, social media, search, and advertising, reshaping the country’s economy. President Trump has repeatedly argued that the tech giants have too much power and influence, and allies of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. make similar complaints.
The investigations have already led to a lawsuit against Google, brought two months ago by the Department of Justice, which accuses the search giant of illegally protecting a monopoly. At least one more lawsuit against Google, by Republican and Democratic officials, is expected by the end of the year. In Europe, regulators are proposing tougher laws against the industry and have issued billions of dollars in penalties for violating competition laws.
The lawsuits against Facebook are expected to spark a long legal battle. The company has long denied any illegal anti-competitive behavior and should use its money pit to defend itself. Few major antitrust cases have focused on mergers approved years earlier. F. T. C. signed the Facebook deals for Instagram and WhatsApp under the Obama administration.
If prosecutors are successful, the business could remake the company, which has seen only unhindered growth. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the company’s disbandment as an “existential” threat.
The case is also widely seen as a barometer of future mergers in the tech industry, which have continued to explode during the pandemic.
Last month, Facebook announced it was buying Customer, a customer relationship management startup, for almost $ 1 billion.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has argued in the past that the social media market remains competitive.
The skyrocketing growth of TikTok, China’s short video-sharing app, and the new growth of Parler, a social media company popular among conservatives, shows that Facebook has no social media lock, said the society.