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FTC Launches Lawsuit Against Facebook Over Antitrust Activity

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The Federal Trade Commission has launched new legal action against Facebook, which alleges that the company is “illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct”.

The suit specifically focuses on Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, and calls for a divestment of the two apps, which would break-up Facebook into separate parts.

As per the FTC:

“Following a lengthy investigation in cooperation with a coalition of attorneys general of 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, the complaint alleges that Facebook has engaged in a systematic strategy – including its 2012 acquisition of up-and-coming rival Instagram, its 2014 acquisition of the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, and the imposition of anticompetitive conditions on software developers – to eliminate threats to its monopoly. This course of conduct harms competition, leaves consumers with few choices for personal social networking, and deprives advertisers of the benefits of competition.”

The action claims that Facebook has total dominance over the ‘social advertising’ market, which it has solidified through its acquisitions and intimidatory behavior. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions on the same from a House Judiciary Committee earlier this year, which, among other findings, suggested that Facebook purchased Instagram to ‘neutralize’ a competitor‘.

That initial examination, however, did not set out any course for legal action, which is now being implemented by the FTC. That could eventually lead to Facebook being forced to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp, significantly reducing its market presence.

Which would be a drastic step, and I’m not sure anyone believes that it will go that far, at least at this stage. But it’s a real possibility, laid out within the terms of the FTC complaint.

The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that could, among other things: require divestitures of assets, including Instagram and WhatsApp; prohibit Facebook from imposing anticompetitive conditions on software developers; and require Facebook to seek prior notice and approval for future mergers and acquisitions.”

Facebook issued a quick response via tweet, but says that it will provide a more in-depth reply shortly.

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In the past, Facebook has successfully argued that it’s only one part of a much broader digital advertising landscape, and that it can’t truly be considered monopolistic given the breadth of options available, both for advertisers and consumers. 

One specific argument could be the rise of TikTok – despite the FTC’s claims that Facebook has stifled competition, TikTok has risen to become a rival for Facebook in various respects. Snapchat, too, has grown in the shadow of The Social Network – but then again, in both cases, Facebook did try its best to limit each app’s growth.

Facebook made an offer to acquire Snapchat back in 2013, which CEO Evan Spiegel famously refused, while Facebook reportedly sought to sow questions around TikTok’s Chinese ownership with US Senators, which lead to an official investigation being launched into the app. Facebook has also launched copycat functions of each within its apps to blunt their respective growth.

Yet, even so, TikTok and Snapchat have succeeded in many respects. Can Facebook then use this as an argument that it doesn’t have a definitive hold on the market?

The legal technicalities will go into far more depth, and it’s impossible to know which way the case will lean. But it’s a significant challenge for Zuck and Co, with major impacts at stake.

Will Facebook have to sell off Instagram? Will it be able to argue that, due to the merger of its messaging functions, it can’t split up its apps (which some have suggested is a defensive tactic for this exact occurence)? 

Expect a prolonged legal battle, with more questions than answers, which will carry on throughout 2021 and beyond.  

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Iran pop singer silenced, but his song remains a protest anthem

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Shervin Hajipour's song "Baraye" draws on the tweets of Iranians longing for a normal life

Shervin Hajipour’s song “Baraye” draws on the tweets of Iranians longing for a normal life – Copyright Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)/AFP –

David Vujanovic

Even though he has been silenced, Iranian pop singer Shirvin Hajipour’s impassioned song in support of protests over Mahsa Amini’s death in custody remains an unofficial anthem of the movement.

The song “Baraye” notched up 40 million views on Instagram before it was deleted when Hajipour was arrested, but he has since been freed on bail and has distanced himself from politics, likely as a condition for his release.

Baraye, the Persian word “For” or “Because”, is composed of tweets about the protests and highlights longings people have for things lacking in sanctions-hit Iran, where many complain of hardship caused by economic mismanagement.

It also draws on everyday activities that have landed people in trouble with the authorities in the Islamic republic.

“For the sake of dancing in the streets; Because of the fear felt while kissing; For my sister, your sister, your sisters,” the song’s lyrics say.

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“Because of the embarrassment of an empty pocket; Because we are longing for a normal life… Because of this polluted air.”

Baraye has been heard played loudly at night from apartment blocks in Iran to show support for protests sparked by Amini’s death on September 16, after the notorious morality police arrested her for allegedly breaching rules requiring women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.

It was also sung with gusto by the Iranian diaspora at rallies in more than 150 cities around the world at the weekend.

In one clip shared by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, a group of schoolgirls without headscarves is seen singing Baraye in class with their backs to the camera.

The tune was removed from Hajipour’s Instagram account shortly after his arrest but is still widely available on other social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.

– ‘Because of forced Instagram stories’ –

Hajipour’s lawyer Majid Kaveh said he was released on bail at noon on Tuesday.

The reformist Shargh newspaper said his family had been informed of his arrest in the northern city of Sari on Saturday, in a report that cited his sister Kamand Hajipour.

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She had said in an Instagram post that her parents had been informed of his arrest in a call from the city’s intelligence ministry offices.

Shortly after his release, Hajipour was back on Instagram, but this time to apologise and distance himself from politics.

“I’m here to say I’m okay,” he told his 1.9 million followers on the platform.

“But I’m sorry that some particular movements based outside of Iran — which I have had no relations with — made some improper political uses of this song.

“I would not swap this (country) for anywhere else and I will stay for my homeland, my flag, my people, and I will sing.

“I don’t want to be a plaything for those who do not think of me, you or this country,” he added.

In response to his post, many on Twitter suggested the line “Because of forced Instagram stories” should be added to the lyrics of the song.

Human rights groups including Article 19 have repeatedly called on Iran to end its use of forced confessions, which they say are false and extracted under duress or even torture.

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In one recent case, a young Iranian woman, Sepideh Rashno, disappeared after becoming involved in a dispute on a Tehran bus with another woman who accused her of removing her headscarf.

She was held by the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and appeared on television in what activists said was a forced confession before being released on bail in late August.

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