In a bid to make Instagram independent again, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is renewing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. The FTC argues that the social media giant has an illegal monopoly on social media and should be forced to sell Instagram and Whatsapp.
The FTC first filed an antitrust case against Facebook in December 2020. The case was thrown out by a federal judge who believed the prosecutors failed to prove that Facebook had done anything illegal.
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According to the FTC, “It [Facebook] unlawfully acquired innovative competitors with popular mobile features that succeeded where Facebook’s own offerings fell flat or fell apart.” Without any real competitors, Facebook has been able to introduce surveillance-based advertising and impose ever-increasing burdens on its users.
Facebook has also been accused of luring app developers to the platform, surveilling them for signs of success, then burying their careers when they become competitive threats.
Instagram has been around for over a decade. Commonly known as the photo-sharing platform, it grew exponentially before Facebook bought it in 2012 for one billion dollars. Since then, many photographers would argue the changes made by Facebook have made it much harder to have their content seen.
Instagram used to operate a chronological posting system. Now it uses algorithms to decide what posts users see first, similar to how Facebook news feeds work. In June 2021, Instagram head Adam Mosseri even declared that “Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing app” in a video he posted on his Instagram and Twitter.
Under the ownership of Facebook, several new features have also been added. Reels enable users to upload short clips that make it more similar to TikTok, while IGTV permits users to post videos longer than one minute.
Holly Vedova, Acting Director of the FTC Bureau of Competition said, “Facebook lacked the business acumen and technical talent to survive the transition to mobile. After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat”.
She continued, “Facebook’s actions have suppressed innovation and product quality improvements. They have degraded the social network experience, subjecting users to lower levels of privacy and data protection and more intrusive ads.”
There hasn’t been a court-ordered antitrust breakup in the United States since President Reagan separated AT&T in the 1980s. Although this enforcement would come as a big blow to Facebook, it's likely that many users of Instagram would welcome the change.
The FTC hopes the new antitrust case against Facebook will restrict it from making similar acquisitions in the future. With more independent social media networks, competition would be restored – hopefully resulting in a better user experience for social media audiences.