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HomeWorldFacebook documents offer a treasure trove for Washington’s antitrust war

Facebook documents offer a treasure trove for Washington’s antitrust war

Facebook likes to portray itself as a social media giant under siege — locked in fierce competition with rivals like YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, and far from the all-powerful goliath that government antitrust enforcers portray.

But internal documents show that the company knows it dominates the arenas it considers central to its fortunes.

Previously unpublished reports and presentations collected by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen show in granular detail how the world’s largest social network views its power in the market, at a moment when it faces growing pressure from governments in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. The documents portray Facebook employees touting its dominance in their internal presentations — contradicting the company’s own public assertions and providing potential fuel for antitrust authorities and lawmakers scrutinizing the social network’s sway over the market.

The internal metrics show that 78 percent of American adults and nearly all U.S. teenagers use the company’s services— and that while competitors like TikTok and Snap have made inroads with 13- to 17-year-olds, they lag behind Facebook and its photo app Instagram on core values like sharing and community.

“We do not have the number-one product for all use cases in all markets,” the employees wrote in one newly obtained presentation from 2018, which said “Facebook-the-company” was doing “okay” but not yet “great” with teens worldwide. “But we do have one of the top social products — with growing market share — almost everywhere.”

Facebook’s goal, employees said in a 2021 presentation, is to be a “super app” that consumers use for everything from sharing life moments with friends and building community to reading the news and watching entertaining videos.

The records are among a pile of disclosures that Haugen’s legal counsel has made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided in redacted form to Congress. A consortium of news organizations, including WEBICNEWS, has obtained the redacted versions of thousands of documents.

Haugen’s disclosures, along with her role in a series of Wall Street Journal investigative articles and her appearances in a recent “60 Minutes” interview and Senate hearing, have set off Facebook’s most serious political crisis in years, while potentially adding momentum to efforts in Congress to toughen antitrust enforcement against U.S.-based tech giants.

The disclosures related to Facebook’s competitive landscape also could aid the antitrust lawsuit that the Federal Trade Commission launched against the company last year, which seeks to force it to split off Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp. The FTC has struggled in court to define key elements of the case, including what a social network is and how Facebook dominates that market. The new documents could help the agency fill in those blanks.

Facebook’s public filings to the SEC offer less detail on its users than its internal documents provide, including data broken down by age groups. Facebook also does not publicly provide data broken down for WhatsApp and Instagram — but these documents do.

“This is very, very strong support for the core story underneath” the FTC’s case, said a former agency staffer who reviewed the documents for WEBICNEWS and spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid influencing the agency’s litigation. “There’s a lot to regret in these documents if you are Facebook.”

But in court papers filed this month, the company accused the FTC of cherry-picking data to portray Facebook as a monopoly abusing its power. The government’s claims, Facebook’s lawyers wrote, are “a litigation-driven fiction at odds with the commercial reality of intense competition with surging rivals like TikTok.”

And the documents Haugen provided only support Facebook’s argument, company spokesperson Christopher Sgro said in an interview Friday.

“Far from supporting the government’s case, the documents presented to Facebook firmly reinforce what Facebook has always said: We compete with a broad range of services for people’s time and attention, including apps that offer social, community, video, news and messaging features,” Sgro told WEBICNEWS. “Consumers freely switch among these features — both within Facebook and outside it — and the FTC’s artificially narrow market definition ignores this obvious reality.”


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