Becoming a Monopoly Was Always Facebook’s Goal
Wednesday’s filing of a major government antitrust suit against Facebook is a landmark in the internet’s history. We knew the suit was coming; we didn’t know it would call for a full-on breakup that would split off Instagram and WhatsApp from the parent company. You can read the Federal Trade Commission’s 53-page complaint here.
Some commentators were quick to question how the FTC and 46 state attorneys general could credibly claim Facebook’s 2012 Instagram acquisition and 2014 WhatsApp acquisition constituted monopolistic behavior, given that the deals withstood antitrust scrutiny at the time. Indeed, both purchases were mocked by many as frivolous overpays, and few foresaw Instagram or WhatsApp growing into the giants that they’ve become under Facebook’s ownership.
That Facebook saw something others didn’t may be a testament to the company’s farsightedness and business acumen. But just because certain regulators and pundits didn’t recognize what Mark Zuckerberg was up to at the time doesn’t mean the company is innocent of anticompetitive behavior.
On the contrary, we now have evidence of what I and many others argued from the start: that Zuckerberg’s goal was always to monopolize social networking. Internal Facebook emails published as part of this year’s Congressional antitrust investigation make clear that the acquisitions were primarily about neutralizing potential competitors, not improving Facebook’s products. They were part of a long-term strategy that has come to be known as “copy, acquire, and kill,” aimed at ensuring Facebook would be not just a social network but the social network, even as social networking became a massive, world-changing global industry.
Zuckerberg has said on multiple occasions that Bill Gates was his childhood hero — a tech titan known as much for his ruthless monopolization of desktop computing as his ingenuity and philanthropy. He reportedly used to shout “domination!” at the end of Facebook staff meetings. And his company has spent the past year frantically integrating Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger with Facebook in a fairly naked bid to complicate a breakup bid.
These anecdotes are not an indictment in themselves: There remains much to be proven if the FTC is to succeed in forcing a breakup. But they at least mean absolutely no one should be surprised that Facebook’s actions over the years are now being called monopolistic — least of all Zuckerberg or the company itself.