48 different attorneys general in the United States are joining a lawsuit against Facebook, claiming its acquisition of competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp amounted to unfair competitive practices under antitrust law.
“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced in a press conference. “Facebook used vast amounts of money to acquire potential rivals before they could threaten the company’s dominance.”
The Federal Trade Commission is expected to follow suit with an even more ambitious lawsuit, calling for the subsidiary companies like Instagram to be spun off, according to The Verge. Mark Zuckerberg testified at an antitrust hearing in Congress over the summer, and congressional advocates for stricter antitrust regulation applauded the lawsuits in press releases. Representative David Cicilline said in a statement that Facebook is a monopoly that "must be broken up."
During the antitrust hearing this summer, emails surfaced between Zuckerberg and Facebook's then-CFO David Ebersman. The messages seemed to couch the purchase of Instagram in explicitly anti-competitive terms.
“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again. Within that time, if we incorporate the social mechanics they were using, those new products won’t get much traction since we’ll already have their mechanics deployed at scale,” Zuckerberg said, though a follow-up email from Zuckerberg backpedaled to say he "didn’t mean to imply that we’d be buying them to prevent them from competing with us in any way."
The Facebook lawsuits are merely the latest in 2020 aimed squarely at the world's largest tech companies. Apple is facing antitrust lawsuits based around its control of the App Store and the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google in October.