By Nathalie Voit
A federal judge blocked Facebook’s request to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) amended antitrust case against the tech giant on Jan. 11.
The suit, which accuses Facebook of abusing its “monopoly power” in the personal social networking (PSN) services market, was originally filed on Dec. 9, 2020. It was overturned by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg last June because the lawsuit did not offer sufficient evidence that the popular social media network was engaging in unlawful anticompetitive conduct.
In response to the judge’s ruling, the FTC filed an amended version of the complaint in August, citing more detailed allegations regarding Facebook’s monopolistic behavior.
On Tuesday, the judge said the agency should be allowed to proceed with its revised case, stating the court had enough facts now to move forward with its core claim that Facebook unlawfully suppressed competition by acquiring potential rivals like photo and video sharing social networking service Instagram and mobile messaging app WhatsApp.
“Although the agency may well face a tall task down the road in proving its allegations, the court believes that it has now cleared the pleading bar and may proceed to discovery,” Judge Boasberg said in a 48-page opinion.
The judge also rejected Facebook’s plea to dismiss the case because FTC Chair Lina Khan was present during the commission’s motion to refile the lawsuit, which passed with a 3-2 party-line vote. The company argued that the vote would be invalid because of Khan’s “alleged prejudgment” of the firm. According to Facebook, Khan, a harsh critic of Big Tech, could not be impartial and should have been recused.
“Although Khan has undoubtedly expressed views about Facebook’s monopoly power, these views do not suggest the type of ‘axe to grind’ based on personal animosity or financial conflict of interest that has disqualified prosecutors in the past,” Judge Boasberg said in the suit.
However, the judge did side with Facebook and said he would not allow the court to pursue allegations related to the company’s Platform policies.
“They founder for the same fundamental reasons as explained before: Facebook abandoned the policies in 2018, and its last alleged enforcement was even further in the past,” the judge said.
“We’re confident the evidence will reveal the fundamental weakness of the claims,” a spokesperson for Meta Platforms said following the ruling, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Our investments in Instagram and WhatsApp transformed them into what they are today. They have been good for competition and good for the people and businesses that choose to use our products.”