“Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition. Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.”
FTC Bureau of Competition Director, Ian Conner
Well, folks, it's time to ring the bells, for the long-awaited day is finally here: The Federal Trade Commission has officially filed a suit against Facebook for "illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct."
If successful, the FTC's permanent injunction (compiled with help from the attorneys general from 46 states, D.C., and Guam, no less) could divest Facebook of assets like WhatsApp and Instagram, bar the social media giant from future anticompetitive tactics against potential rivals, and require notice and approval for any future acquisitions and company mergers. In short: Facebook's days as a hegemonic, dystopian mega-corp may be numbered.
Months in the making — "Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition. Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive," FTC Bureau of Competition Director, Ian Conner, said in a statement. The filing comes after months of congressional hearings and inquiries into Facebook's tactics, along with sustained, heated public blowback regarding the House of Zuckerberg's handling of the rampant spread of hate speech, electoral misinformation, and conspiracy theories via the platform. The company reportedly hoped to avoid this fate by cozying up to the incoming Biden administration, but clearly, that strategy didn't exactly pan out here.
Focusing on Facebook's tactics against Instagram and Vine — In particular, the suit focuses in on Facebook's 2012 acquisition of Instagram, which it purchased for $1 billion in an attempt to buy up one of its chief social media rivals. "Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, quickly recognized that Instagram was a vibrant and innovative personal social network and an existential threat to Facebook’s monopoly power," reads the FTC announcement.
Instagram's purchase is just one of the predatory ways Facebook rose to become one of the world's most successful companies, generating over $70 billion in revenue and $18.5 billion in profits just last year. Additionally, the FTC's suit also alleges Facebook repeatedly restricted third-party access to its API in an attempt to discourage platform interconnectivity, citing its handling of Vine (RIP), which was disallowed access to friends via Facebook because it was owned by rival, Twitter.
The first of many potential suits — Of course, we still have a long way to go before we can watch the robotic smirk fade from Mark Zuckerberg's face, but this is undisputedly a huge day in Big Tech oversight, especially as we head into a new, Democratic presidential administration. The FTC's filing against Facebook is the first, but it almost certainly won't be the last: Google, Twitter, and Amazon should be worried.