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Meta Faces Another Antitrust Challenge, with the FTC’s Case Against the Company Approved for the Next Stage



Meta Faces Another Antitrust Challenge, with the FTC's Case Against the Company Approved for the Next Stage

Meta is facing another antitrust probe in the US, with the FTC today being granted permission to present its case against the company over its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, which the FTC says were specifically aimed at eliminating competition in the market.

Which, in some ways, they likely were, but at the same time, there’s also a strong case to suggest that Meta has built both apps into what they are as a result of its investment in each, using its resources and reach to boost them both beyond a billion users. Now a court will need to decide which is the more substantive motivator, and whether Meta’s conduct is in breach of the antitrust law.

The ruling is a reversal of the Federal Court’s initial finding in June last year, which saw it dismiss the FTC’s case against Meta, due to the FTC failing to present strong enough arguments to suggest that Meta had acquired either or both apps as an anti-competitive move.

As per the June ruling:

The FTC has failed to plead enough facts to plausibly establish a necessary element of all of its Section 2 claims – namely, that Facebook has monopoly power in the market for Personal Social Networking (PSN) Services.”

So it’s not that the court disagreed with the suggestion that Meta (then Facebook) potentially acted in an anti-competitive way, but the FTC’s case failed to clearly show that Meta had gained a significant market advantage as a result, as there are various other social apps and platforms that have succeeded in spite of Meta’s efforts.

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The judge in that initial instance gave the FTC an opportunity to re-submit its case, which has now lead to this new ruling in its favor, opening the door for a new legal push which, if successful could force Meta to divest both WhatsApp and Instagram, making them independent entities once again.

Though that does seem like a long shot at this stage.

In anticipation of such investigations, Meta has been working to reform its business, and meld together its various elements, which would make it much harder to separate out each, if it were ruled to do so.

Over the past three years now, Meta has been merging its messaging back-end, in order to facilitate interoperability, which will mean that, eventually, the messaging elements of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp will all be working from the same system, and therefore no longer be operable in a separate capacity.

Meta has also changed its corporate name, while it’s also added clear, distinctive branding to all of its apps, another move designed to merge all of its services into one, connected entity.

Of course, each platform operated separately once before, so they could, theoretically, do so again. But it seems that Meta has been working to solidify its internal systems, so that there’s no simple way to break them all apart, which will likely form a key part of its legal defense.

Meta also has the benefit of time. It originally acquired Instagram in 2012, and WhatsApp in 2014, with both deals passing all the necessary regulatory requirements each time. Given that we’re now a decade on, that will also work in Meta’s favor, and it’s also worth noting that the judge dismissed another element of the FTC’s complaint – that Meta changed its platform policies to cut off services to rivals – because the issue is now too far in the past.

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Time doesn’t change the facts of Meta’s conduct, but again, Meta will no doubt argue that all of its acquisitions were approved by the necessary regulatory groups, each of which assessed potential antitrust concerns and found no cause to stop the process. And with a decade of development, now it’s too late to be revising the terms of past deals.

It does seem like a fairly fraught case, with some clearly relevant points, though likely not enough to prove, definitively, that Meta acted in an anti-competitive way. In some ways – well, really, the only way – Meta would actually be glad for the presence of TikTok at this time, because the success of TikTok shows that Meta doesn’t have monopoly control of the social media market, while Google holds a significant enough stake in digital advertising to also counter that element.

But maybe, had Meta’s attempts to purchase Snapchat been successful, it would have been in a less defensible spot. It’s no surprise that Meta has slowed its acquisition momentum significantly of late.

There’s still some way to go, and many, many pages of court documents and rulings to read, but at this stage, it seems more likely that Meta’s empire will remain unchanged at the end of the proceedings.

Though it is interesting, and relevant, to note that the Federal Court has even approved such a case, which points to further scrutiny of similar tech acquisitions in future.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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