In a rare example of bipartisan cooperation in hyperpolarized times, Democrats and Republicans have joined together to support antitrust charges levelled against Facebook Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission and an alliance of attorneys general from 48 states, a move that seeks to break up the company and reverse previously approved acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) applauded the effort, writing on Twitter that Facebook’s “greed knows no bounds, and they’ve used their power to try and control too much of political and economic life all over the world… the only thing that will stop Facebook is to say ‘enough is enough’ and break it up.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) concurred, describing the social media giant as “an out-of-control monopoly” that has “abused its market power to squash competition, manipulate democracies, and crush journalism.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has been calling to break up big tech for years, said Facebook should never have been allowed to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp in the first place, adding: “More competition means more options for consumers and content creators, and more pressure on companies like Facebook to address the glaring problems with their businesses.”.
Colorado Republican Ken Buck, a member of the House judiciary committee, said that Facebook “crushed the competition by breaking the law” and wrote on Twitter that “Big Tech’s reckoning has just begun.”
Tech insiders are also supporting the government’s efforts to break up big tech, with Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of search engine DuckDuckGo writing on Twitter that “Facebook has torn societies apart… (and) was never going to fix itself.”
Not all are in favor of the lawsuit, with Jessica Melugin from the right-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute asserting that, from a consumer harm perspective, the question becomes “so what?,” with Facebook taking “Instagram from a modest and glitchy app to one with a billion users as of 2018.”
What To Watch For
Unsurprisingly, most of tech’s largest players, including Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, are keeping very quiet as this lawsuit begins to take shape. In the coming days, weeks and months it’s possible that some will begin to make their positions known, as will a number of smaller actors who perhaps feel aggrieved by the dominance of just a few large companies.
The antitrust allegations levelled against Facebook cut broad and deep and represent an almost existential threat to the company. They are, by far, the most significant regulatory challenge the company has ever faced. Regulators are accusing Facebook of engaging in a “systematic strategy… to eliminate threats to its monopoly” through its acquisitions, specifically seeking the reversal of two of its largest: Instagram and WhatsApp. The FTC itself had actually approved these acquisitions in the past, something Facebook has capitalized on in its initial defense, describing it as an act of revisionism.
In a speedy rebuttal, Facebook general counsel Jennifer Newstead slammed the agency’s attempt to get a “do-over” many years after it had approved the company’s acquisitions “with seemingly no regard for settled law or the consequences to innovation and investment.” Newstead continued, asserting that “this is simply not how the antitrust laws are supposed to work. No American antitrust enforcer has ever brought a case like this before, and for good reason.”