Is Facebook a Monopoly?

Facebook denies it’s a monopoly but there’s no question it’s gigantic.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans adults use Facebook—76 percent of them use it daily. Despite a small decline in use of the services, 2.13 billion people use Facebook, 1.5 billion are active monthly users of the Facebook-owned messenger service WhatsApp and 800 million use Instagram. While there’s certainly overlap between users of the different social media platforms, demographic studies indicate they’re used by varying age and ethnicity groups, cutting a broad swath through internet users across the world.

So if Facebook is too big to not fail, what’s to do? The answer may be as simple as break it up.

The consumer advocacy group Citizens against Monopoly wants the Facebook behemoth picked apart. Their new campaign, Freedom From Facebook, calls for the Federal trade commission to break up Facebook into its component parts. On its website, the group calls for the FTC to “spin off Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger into competing networks, require interoperability, so we have the freedom to communicate across social networks, and impose strong privacy rules that empower and protect us.”

Facebook critics say the social media platform is too big for its own—or its users—good. As anti-monopoly economics writer Matt Stoller noted on Twitter, there are too many Facebook users for Facebook to keep track of. “The problem with Facebook is that a small group of people in Palo Alto just cannot effectively edit the information flow of 2.2 billion people,” Stoller wrote. “It’s just that simple.”

The money and power of Facebook is an obvious roadblock to action. But the FTC is in limbo at the moment, with Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer reportedly holding up confirmation for nominees to run the FTC, according to an Intercept report.

Representatives of Facebook deny the social media company is a monopoly. Facebook executives want the social media platform to be viewed as one among many apps an average person can use to communicate. A Facebook spokesman told Axios that regulators who reviewed Facebook’s acquisitions concluded they didn’t harm competition.

Facebook’s reported ability to track everyone on the internet, whether or not they use Facebook, makes it seem like more than just a run of the mill app. And, as the Freedom From Facebook campaign notes, Facebook has spent millions on corporate lobbyists, academics and think tanks to ensure no one gets in their way. When you spend like that, regulators tend to suspend criticism.

There’s ready evidence that breaking up Facebook would be a net good for American tech consumers and America in general. We need look no further than the antitrust case the federal government brought against Microsoft in 1998. Microsoft in 1998 isn’t exactly the same as Facebook in 2018, but the case is instructive nonetheless.

As Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote in a recent New York Times editorial, after the antitrust case, “innovation surged in the newly opened markets and the United States continued to spearhead growth in the technological world. The enduring lesson of the Microsoft case was that keeping markets open can require a trustbuster’s courage to take decisive action against even a very popular monopolist.”