Facebook, already dogged by state and federal investigations, now faces another obstacle amid widespread anguish over its anti-conservative and anti-competitive practices.
The U.S. Department of Justice will soon take measures to rein in the world’s largest social media network with an antitrust investigation into Facebook, Reuters reports, citing a source familiar with the matter.
In June, the FTC and DOJ, which both share antitrust enforcement power and oversee clearance agreements, negotiated a deal to divide oversight of the nation’s largest tech firms. The Justice Department began an antitrust investigation into Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc., while the FTC obtained jurisdiction over Facebook and Amazon.
However, Attorney General William Barr reversed the decision, requesting the DOJ lead the investigation into Facebook, according to the source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
FTC Chairman Joe Simmons has contested the DOJ’s decision to intervene with its investigation of the company, arguing the Justice Department is contravening with the commission’s territory. Simmons wrote a letter to the DOJ earlier this month demanding the department stick to it’s designated lane and complained about “the department’s behavior and [raised] concerns about recent interactions between the two agencies.”
In a recent congressional hearing, Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief, revealed the two federal agencies have been at odds over jurisdiction to investigate Facebook.
“I cannot deny there are instances where Chairman Simons’ and my time is wasted on those types of squabbles,” Delrahim said.
Another source familiar with the matter claims Attorney General Bill Barr decided it was imperative the Justice Department conduct an examination of Facebook’s breach of antitrust law amid universal concern regarding the tech company’s unregulated anti-competitive practices.
The FTC is currently conducting interviews with Facebook’s rival Snap over alleged anti-competition practices and Snap is happily and readily complying.
Snap has chronicled every anti-competitive tactic employed by Facebook over the years and documenting the evidence in a file dubbed “Project Voldemort.” Snap alleges Facebook has thus far integrated nearly every unique innovation its ushered in.
“Facebook’s quest to mimic Snapchat is undeniable at this point,” Engadget reported in 2017. “In just the last few months, Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger have all integrated some form of Stories — a disappearing slideshow format that Snapchat is famous for — while Facebook Live dabbled in Snapchat-esque selfie filters.”
Snap also alleges Zuckerberg gave it’s co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel an ultimatum using intimidation, according to WSJ’s sources, demanding he sell Snapchat to Facebook or regularly endure watching Facebook mimic his platform’s new features and innovations.
The DOJ’s probe will mark the fourth investigation into Zuckerberg’s company.
Earlier this month, virtually every state attorney general charged Facebook and Google with antitrust violations and announced plans to investigate the tech giants for using its conglomerate power to eliminate their competitors and stifle users. Fifty attorneys general from U.S. states and territories signed onto an antitrust lawsuit, while only Alabama and California opted-out of the investigation.
The House Judiciary Committee has also launched a bipartisan probe into whether Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon are breaching antitrust law, requesting the digital market giants turnover internal documents and communications that deliberately eliminated its competitors during the time frame they rapidly expanded.
Experts warn U.S. antitrust statutes, composed decades before the development of the internet, may prove to be too outdated to break up or reign in the increasingly arcane digital marketplace, raising questions into whether the archaic antitrust laws still hold applicable legal jurisprudence.
However, Rep. David Cicilline (D -RI), who is leading the House Judiciary Committee probe, maintains antitrust statutes will be modified to reign in the digital marketplace’s amassing power, if need be.
“One of the things we’re looking at during the investigation is whether or not we need to update or modernize our statutes because … those statutes were written 100 years ago in response to the railroad and oil monopolies,” Cicilline said. “It’s a very different economy today.”
Facebook is seemingly on edge amid the federal probes, after the company’s brazen censoring of conservatives – blacklisting and defaming top conservative pundits as “dangerous individuals” and purging hundreds of conservative-leaning sites from its platform. Zuckerberg went to D.C. earlier this month and met with President Trump and Republican lawmakers in an attempt to alleviate tension.
In a preemptive attempt to steer away reprisal from the FTC, Facebook has already reportedly put a halt on new acquisitions and has taken steps to better infuse its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram to make it more difficult to break them up. Facebook is also attempting to repair relations with its Silicon Valley rivals after reportedly intimidating their competition.
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