Earlier this year, the Department of Justice and several state attorneys general launched an antitrust suit against Google parent company Alphabet, accusing the company of illegally monopolizing the markets for search and online ads.
Now, it appears, it’s about to be Facebook’s turn.
Politico reported last month that the Federal Trade Commission was planning to sue Facebook for antitrust violations. That suit, which was to allege that Facebook “unfairly stifled competition as it snapped up smaller rivals and maintained a stranglehold on its users’ data,” wasn’t filed by the end of November as Politico said it may be, but now it appears the states will be going after Facebook as well.
According to a report Thursday by CNBC, as many as twenty or thirty estate attorneys general were preparing to sue Facebook, “as soon as next week.” New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who is said to be investigating President Trump, is the leader of the effort to sue Facebook.
And while the litigation against Google was mostly led by Republican attorneys general, prosecutors of both parties appear to be involved in the proposed Facebook suits.
The federal case may be filed “in house,” rather than before a judge, multiple reports have stated. The current FTC chairman, Joe Simons, favors the former approach, although it’s possible that the incoming Biden Administration’s FTC will take a different tack, the Politico report said.
Facebook has been a major part of the backlash against Big Tech which has emerged in the Trump era, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hauled before Congress twice this fall to answer questions from outraged lawmakers, along with other top tech CEOs.
The opposition to Facebook, in particular, has been notably bipartisan. Many Republicans have accused the company of bias against conservatives, while Democrats believe Facebook hasn’t done enough to curb the spread of misinformation and disinformation on the platform. Members of both parties have been critical of Facebook’s general business practices.
Zuckerberg, in one of the hearings, expressed support for reform of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, going further in doing so than most of his tech CEO counterparts. Section 230, a statute greatly valued by Internet freedom advocates, shields websites and other tech platforms from liability for things posted by their users.
“I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended,” Zuckerberg said in his opening statement while testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee in late October. “We support the ideas are around transparency and industry collaboration that are being discussed in some of the current bipartisan proposals… I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators, which I why in March last year I called for regulation on harmful content, privacy, elections and data portability.”
President Trump, this week, tweeted that he would veto the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act if Congress didn’t attach a full repeal of Section 230 to the legislation, although that idea appears to now be a nonstarter.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.