Facebook Gets Reprieve As Court Throws Out FTC, States' Antitrust Complaints The decision is a blow to the Federal Trade Commission and 48 state attorneys general, who were pushing for the federal court to break up the social media giant.

Facebook Gets Reprieve As Court Throws Out Major Antitrust Complaints

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1011042126/1011201189" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


A federal judge dismissed two huge antitrust complaints against Facebook. It's a big win for that company. These suits were filed back in December - one by the federal government and one by most of the country's attorneys general. But this does not mean Facebook is out of the hot seat by any stretch of the imagination. For more, we are joined by NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond. Just a note - Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters, but we cover them like any other company. Shannon, good morning.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: These lawsuits were thrown out at a very early stage of the process, right? What happened?

BOND: Right. Well, the Federal Trade Commission and these 48 attorneys general - they had accused Facebook of crushing its competition by buying up rivals, like Instagram and WhatsApp, and suffocating other companies by preventing them from accessing its platform and data. Facebook disputed these claims. It said the government hadn't shown any illegal behavior, and it asked the court to throw these suits out. And yesterday, the judge largely agreed with the company, and he tossed the complaints.

MARTIN: So let's talk about that substance. What did the judge say was wrong with these cases?

BOND: Well, of course, you know, we know Facebook boasts more than 2 billion users around the world. It's the largest social network. But Judge James Boasberg says the FTC just needs to show more evidence to back up its claim that under the law, Facebook has a monopoly. So he's given the FTC 30 days to file a new complaint addressing his concerns. Now, when it came to the states' case, the judge said their accusations about Instagram and WhatsApp just came too late. These were deals that were made years ago, right? Facebook bought Instagram in 2012. It bought WhatsApp in 2014. Now, people I talked to said that was kind of surprising. Back at the time these deals were made, the states didn't look at whether they were good or bad. And yet now the judge is saying it's too late to object. I spoke to Bill Kovacic. He's a former FTC chair and a law professor at George Washington. And he says these rulings show just how much of an uphill battle the government faces.

BILL KOVACIC: You do not expect to get knocked out of the game in the very first inning, and the judge has given them a very sobering reminder of how hard it will be to succeed with this kind of very difficult case.

MARTIN: So this is, no doubt, welcome news for Facebook. What are they saying?

BOND: Well, it's - yes, it's definitely a temporary reprieve. A spokesman says the company is pleased that the court recognized the, quote, "defects" in the government's case, says Facebook competes fairly. Investors were also happy. The stock rose after the news. So Facebook's market cap has now passed $1 trillion for the first time. Very few companies can claim that.

MARTIN: So if this is a temporary win, what's the government's next move?

BOND: Well, the FTC and the state attorneys general say they're reviewing the judge's opinions. They're weighing their options. I think we can expect them to refile this complaint. They may also appeal this dismissal. Certainly, the FTC is not going to back down, Rachel. You know, it just got a new chairwoman, Lina Khan. She's an outspoken critic of Big Tech. And Kovacic, the former FTC chair I spoke with - he told me he sees two paths forward for the agency.

KOVACIC: One is we're going to keep our foot on the accelerator when it comes to bringing tough cases. But the second path is to go to the Congress and say, see? This is why you have to do your job to give us better tools.

BOND: And when it comes to Congress, right now the House Judiciary Committee is advancing a bipartisan package of bills. They seek to rein in Big Tech, curb some of what it can do and also beef up antimonopoly enforcement at agencies, including the FTC. And just yesterday, we heard from Democrats and Republicans on the committee. They're making that case. They're saying, you know, this is exactly why we need the kind of reforms we are proposing here, this dismissal itself.

MARTIN: NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond. Shannon, thank you for that.

BOND: Thanks, Rachel.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.