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I feel that Facebook is too powerful for various reasons. I would like to know if there are any laws which could be applied to claim they have an illegal level of power or infringement on human and civic rights, or if there are laws which could feasibly be instituted to curb their power in specific key ways.

Is Facebook a monopoly? I do not believe there is any real competitor. I also believe they have such an extreme level of power that they may furtively make use of strategies that indirectly make it extremely hard for there to be any competition. For example, they are extremely good at making people dependent on their platform, even when people don’t want to be. Arguably, it sometimes appears that they have socially engineered dependence on their product, while being able to claim one’s participation is voluntary.

One conceptual issue I have is how you define “monopoly”. Doesn’t this require someone to decide what would define the perimeter of their industry? I wonder if this is a long-standing methodological issue in law? For example, Google had an anti-trust suit I think, and they claimed DuckDuckGo was their competitor.

There’s the rub: is there a legal difference between any “competitor”, and a serious competitor? Has it ever been argued in a legal case that to actually be a competitor, you have to offer much more similar services, at a much more similar scope? From that perspective, DuckDuckGo can’t remotely compare to what Google does.

I feel like Uber and Lyft are two companies that are an example of “two households, both alike in dignity”: they are actually highly similar services, with minor variations.

Compared to that, there is obviously no “other Facebook”. (Yes, I am excluding Instagram, Twitter, etc, which to me is like comparing a photo printing business to a university or something, they are extremely different services with different features).

So, please someone help me out with the strict technical details of this: according to law, is there an unequivocal reason why Facebook is not a monopoly? According to which clauses in which laws; and which legal precedents (ie previous court cases and rulings to refer back to).

Thank you.

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    Facebook owns Instagram, so that wouldn't be a competitor, but X is a competitor. While they are very different platforms, they serve the same basic purpose of social networking and communication.
    – Someone
    Jan 25 at 0:55
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    Meta's main product is targeted advertisement. The site facebook.com exists to show you ads, and gather information about you that helps the targeting, it isn't a product. Meta doesn't have a monopoly on targeted advertisement
    – Caleth
    Jan 25 at 10:17
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    It seems quite an exaggeration to say that Instagram, Twitter are "extremely different services" in the sense that a photo printing business and a university are. They are all social media platforms which allow people to make posts, vote / comment on posts, upload photos and videos, etc.
    – JBentley
    Jan 25 at 11:19
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    This is such a funny question to people outside a specific bubble :D
    – Hakaishin
    Jan 25 at 13:36
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    Also, I've found that it really isn't difficult at all to not use Facebook, Instagram & other meta products. Have been free of them since 2015, and I don't miss them a lick. My social bubble basically exists entirely on Discord nowadays.
    – T. Sar
    Jan 25 at 13:40

3 Answers 3

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Facebook is not a monopoly. There are other social media firms out there, it did not achieve its market share primarily through anti-competitive conduct, and there are almost no formal barriers to entry into the social media space.

It is nonetheless possible that Facebook may have engaged in anti-trust violations (not necessarily monopolization or attempted monopolization), which do not require that an anti-trust offender have a monopoly.

Facebook has a very large share of the relevant market share (although exactly what market is relevant is a key and hotly contested question of fact in anti-trust litigation). And, this gives it the economic and market power to engage in anti-competitive conduct if it chooses to do so. But there is little evidence that anti-competitive conduct is what caused it secure or maintain its large market share.

The primary U.S. anti-trust law regulating monopolies and attempts to form monopolies is Section 2 of the Sherman Act. 15 U.S.C. § 2.

Section 2 of the Sherman Act makes it unlawful for any person to "monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations . . . .

For purposes of Section 2 of the Sherman Act, as explained by the U.S. Department of Justice at the link above:

Monopolization requires (1) monopoly power and (2) the willful acquisition or maintenance of that power as distinguished from growth or development as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident.

and

Attempted monopolization requires (1) anticompetitive conduct, (2) a specific intent to monopolize, and (3) a dangerous probability of achieving monopoly power.

Furthermore:

Today, a consensus--as reflected in both judicial decisions(33) and the views of a broad cross-section of commentators--exists on at least seven core principles regarding section 2, each of which is discussed in the sections that follow:

  • Unilateral conduct is outside the purview of section 2 unless the actor possesses monopoly power or is likely to achieve it.
  • The mere possession or exercise of monopoly power is not an offense; the law addresses only the anticompetitive acquisition or maintenance of such power (and certain related attempts).
  • Acquiring or maintaining monopoly power through assaults on the competitive process harms consumers and is to be condemned.
  • Mere harm to competitors--without harm to the competitive process--does not violate section 2.
  • Competitive and exclusionary conduct can look alike--indeed, the same conduct can have both beneficial and exclusionary effects--making it hard to distinguish conduct that should be deemed unlawful from conduct that should not.
  • Because competitive and exclusionary conduct often look alike, courts and enforcers need to be concerned with both underdeterrence and overdeterrence.
  • Standards for applying section 2 should take into account the costs, including error and administrative costs, associated with courts and enforcers applying those standards in individual cases and businesses applying them in their own day-to-day decision making.

The Federal Trade Commission, which is the primary federal government regulatory agency charged with enforcing U.S. anti-trust laws further explains the nuances of what is and is not an anti-trust violation. It notes that:

Section 2 of the Sherman Act makes it unlawful for a company to "monopolize, or attempt to monopolize," trade or commerce. As that law has been interpreted, it is not illegal for a company to have a monopoly, to charge "high prices," or to try to achieve a monopoly position by what might be viewed by some as particularly aggressive methods. The law is violated only if the company tries to maintain or acquire a monopoly through unreasonable methods. For the courts, a key factor in determining what is unreasonable is whether the practice has a legitimate business justification.

It goes on to explain that conduct which is relevant includes: (1) exclusive supply or purchase agreements, (2) predatory or below-cost pricing, (3) refusal to deal, and (4) tying the sale of two products.

Admittedly, this only scratches the surface of what does and does not constitute a monopoly related anti-trust violation. But, the academic literature and case law addressing these issues is vast, despite the fact that anti-trust litigation is very rare and rarely makes much of a big picture difference in the economy.

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    I haven't used Facebook in forever, however if I recall one point of contention is that it attempts to form a "walled garden", for example by adding apps & games to Facebook so that users do not have to leave Facebook, ever, thereby slowly weaning them off the external world. Not quite (4), though, since many apps & games are free and nobody is forced to buy them. Jan 25 at 10:09
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    @MatthieuM. Nowadays even Discord and Youtube have apps and games inside them!
    – T. Sar
    Jan 25 at 13:35
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    If memory serves me right, in the EU tying the sale of Internet Explorer to the sale of Windows was seen as unfairly disadvantaging the competitor browsers and therefor a violation of the EU anti-trust laws by Microsoft. So, at least in the EU, tying the sale of two products can be relevant, especially if one of those products already has a (near-)monopoly position. Jan 25 at 14:38
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    @BartvanIngenSchenau the EU ruling was a bit of a disaster as Google quickly proved that you can outcompete the existing browsers easily with a great product, without the need for any regulation. If IE literally blocked the websites of competitors it might’ve been a good ruling but they never went that far. Jan 25 at 15:50
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    @JuliusH. "How do people decide what counts as “another entity of the same kind”?" They hire expert economists to testify about their expert opinions on the issue. "how do we know? Like in a court of law, how can we be certain that we actually know internally what their business practices and strategies have been?" If the person claiming a violation can't present evidence to prove it in court, it didn't happen for purposes of the law. "is that a key ingredient in being considered a monopoly, that there are formal barriers?" Yes.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 25 at 19:45
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No, there are too many substitute products

Facebook.com's primary product is a social media feed, where people can post their own updates/photos and read content posted by others. Even if it could be shown that they have a 100% share in this market they would still not be a monopoly because they're not an essential good and has plenty of substitute alternatives. If Facebook didn't exist people would still have plenty of alternative ways to communicate and exchange photos, they just wouldn't be in the form of a "feed". You can use iMessage, Telegram, Whatsapp, text messages, email, regular phone calls, and a plethora of other communication options.

The same applies, for example, to the video game market: even if (say) Rockstar Games acquired a 100% share on the video game market it wouldn't be a big deal because video games are not essential and consumers can choose from hundreds of alternative activities to pre-occupy their time. Monopolies are only possible for fundamental, irreplaceable goods for which there are no reasonable alternatives.

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    Is a search engine an "essential good"? Regulators have been going after Google.
    – Barmar
    Jan 25 at 15:29
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    @Barmar yes, there’s no easy substitution for a search engine, so it could be a monopoly. But any forms of pure entertainment cannot possibly be one. Jan 25 at 15:49
  • 100% of Facebook accounts are on Facebook. So Facebook definitely has a monopoly on Facebook accounts. :) Jan 25 at 23:05
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The main business of facebook is seling internet ads.

For its paying customers it is not a monopoly at any rate.

There are Google, X as well as multiple smaller players in this market.

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  • I thought facebooks main reason for existence was to help conmen and cults generate new victims
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 26 at 17:36
  • @NeilMeyer never knew about Russian propaganda? You lucky bastard...
    – fraxinus
    Jan 26 at 17:55

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