FTC files new, extra-detailed monopoly complaint against Facebook

The FTC isn't ready to back down just yet. Not even close.

Mark Zuckerberg (center) speaks to a media after a press conference where a redesign of  Facebook's ...
San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust complaints against Facebook were thrown out of court by a federal judge back in June. This week the organization filed a newly amended antitrust complaint aimed at Facebook’s successive purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram, thereby extending its fight against the world’s most popular social network.

Under the heading “Facebook’s Monopoly Power,” the FTC delves into the full extent of what it views as the company’s aggressively anticompetitive practices. The FTC does not mince words here. “Facebook holds monopoly power in the provision of personal social networking in the United States and has held such power continuously since at least 2011,” the complaint reads (h/t The Verge).

The FTC has been cracking down on monopolies hard in the last couple of years, with Facebook as one of the organization’s most prominent targets. Now, after being shot down by a federal judge, the FTC is back with vengeance — and even more details.

Personal social networks — The FTC’s original case was relatively clear, at least from our vantage point. The case, in all its complexities, relies on one overarching narrative: that Facebook uses its immense funds to intimidate competition into buyouts.

The new complaint utilizes much of the same evidence but takes a stricter approach to scene-setting. The FTC is going for a pretty textbook monopoly case here, alleging that Facebook has created an environment where there’s no choice but for it to dominate a given market — which means the FTC needs to first define which market, exactly, Facebook has monopolized.

The FTC is calling this market “personal social networking services.” It defines this market as spaces that are explicitly social, thereby distinguishing Facebook and Instagram from apps like TikTok. The definition also excludes Twitter, actually, because it lacks a focus on connecting friends and family.

The numbers don’t lie — The new complaint is also savvy in its use of Facebook’s own metrics toward its case. The exact number of monthly active users for each Instagram and Facebook are redacted in the version of the filing we’re privy to, but the strategy is obvious nonetheless.

“No other personal social networking provider in the United States remotely approaches Facebook’s scale,” the FTC says. “Snapchat is the next-largest provider of personal social networking services, but its user base pales in comparison: Snapchat has tens of millions fewer monthly users than either Facebook Blue or Instagram.”

Now we wait…again — The FTC only just filed its complaint, so Facebook hasn’t even had time to reply yet. Well, that’s not true, exactly; the company did tweet this afternoon that it was “reviewing the FTC’s amended complaint” and would “have more to say soon.”

We’d be surprised if the company’s eventual statement accomplished anything but outright denying the FTC’s theorizing. And Facebook has been given until October 4th to have a lawyer craft a response for it — so it could be a while before the case moves along.

It’s looking like the FTC has taken the judge’s refusal as more fuel in its tank. Lina Khan, a noted anti-tech critic, is leading the continued anti-competition investigation as the FTC’s current chairperson.