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Judge rejects Facebook bid to derail US antitrust suit

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Judge rejects Facebook bid to derail US antitrust suit

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Facebook has been hit with fresh criticism for its handling of a key program – Image: © AFP

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that US regulators’ re-worked anti-trust case against Facebook can go ahead, saying the complaint was more robust and detailed than the version denied last year.

The US Federal Trade Commission has alleged the social media giant, which has renamed itself Meta, holds an illegal monopoly by acquiring potential competitors that it now owns like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Judge James Boasberg’s ruling is a blow to Facebook, which faced renewed scrutiny last year after a whistleblower leaked documents showing executives knew the harm their services could cause to teens, democracy and users’ well-being.

The FTC “may well face a tall task down the road in proving its allegations,” but the case will not be dismissed, ruled Boasberg, who last year tossed out the original suit.

His ruling Tuesday denied a push by Facebook, which did not reply to a request seeking comment, to also dismiss the re-worked complaint.

“The Commission continues to allege that Facebook has long had a monopoly in the market… and that it has unlawfully maintained that monopoly,” Boasberg wrote.

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“The facts alleged this time around to fortify those theories, however, are far more robust and detailed than before,” he added.

The judge also rejected Facebook’s argument that the case should be dismissed because the commission’s decision to amend and refile was fueled by a bias against the company by FTC chairwoman Lina Khan.

That contention missed the mark, the judge reasoned, because Khan is a prosecutor, not a judge bound to neutrality.

“Ultimately, whether the FTC will be able to prove its case and prevail at summary judgment and trial is anyone’s guess,” the judge said in the ruling.

In the amended complaint, the FTC said Facebook’s dominance “is protected by high barriers to entry,” and that “even an entrant with a superior product cannot succeed against the overwhelming network effects enjoyed by an incumbent personal social network.”

The lawsuit, which could take years to go through the courts without a settlement, calls for the court to order “divestiture of assets,” including WhatsApp and Instagram, to restore competition.

Boasberg said in his dismissal ruling last year that the agency’s initial lawsuit lacked evidence, notably in defining the market that Facebook was allegedly monopolizing.

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UK teen died after ‘negative effects of online content’: coroner

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Molly Russell was exposed to online material 'that may have influenced her in a negative way'

Molly Russell was exposed to online material ‘that may have influenced her in a negative way’ – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Philip FONG

A 14-year-old British girl died from an act of self harm while suffering from the “negative effects of online content”, a coroner said Friday in a case that shone a spotlight on social media companies.

Molly Russell was “exposed to material that may have influenced her in a negative way and, in addition, what had started as a depression had become a more serious depressive illness,” Andrew Walker ruled at North London Coroner’s Court.

The teenager “died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression”, he said, but added it would not be “safe” to conclude it was suicide.

Some of the content she viewed was “particularly graphic” and “normalised her condition,” said Walker.

Russell, from Harrow in northwest London, died in November 2017, leading her family to set up a campaign highlighting the dangers of social media.

“There are too many others similarly affected right now,” her father Ian Russell said after the ruling.

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“At this point, I just want to say however dark it seems, there is always hope.

“I hope that this will be an important step in bringing about much needed change,” he added.

The week-long hearing became heated when the family’s lawyer, Oliver Sanders, took an Instagram executive to task.

A visibly angry Sanders asked Elizabeth Lagone, the head of health and wellbeing at Meta, Instagram’s parent company, why the platform allowed children to use it when it was “allowing people to put potentially harmful content on it”.

“You are not a parent, you are just a business in America. You have no right to do that. The children who are opening these accounts don’t have the capacity to consent to this,” he said.

Lagone apologised after being shown footage, viewed by Russell, that “violated our policies”.

Of the 16,300 posts Russell saved, shared or liked on Instagram in the six-month period before her death, 2,100 related to depression, self-harm or suicide, the inquest heard.

Children’s charity NSPCC said the ruling “must be a turning point”.

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“Tech companies must be held accountable when they don’t make children’s safety a priority,” tweeted the charity.

“This must be a turning point,” it added, stressing that any delay to a government bill dealing with online safety “would be inconceivable to parents”.

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