More than 40 states led by New York have signed up to sue Facebook as early as next week, for antitrust issues. Reuters broke the news citing sources.
This is coming at the heels of the US Justice Department’s decision to file a suit against the social media behemoth over what it describes as “discriminating against US workers”.
The lawsuit filed by the DOJ said “Facebook refused to recruit, consider, or hire qualified and available US workers for over 2,600 positions”, instead, reserved it for temporary visa holders it sponsored for permanent work authorization (green cards) in connection with the permanent labor certification process (PERM).
“The Department of Justice’s lawsuit alleges that Facebook engaged in international and widespread violations of the law, by setting aside position for temporary visa holders instead of considering interested and qualified U.S. workers,” Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said.
Dreiband explained that the lawsuit follows a nearly two-year investigation into Facebook practices and a ‘reasonable cause’ determination by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The investigation thus found that beginning from around Jan. 1, 2018 and until Sept. 18, 2019, Facebook employed tactics that discriminated against US workers and routinely preferred temporary visa holders, including H-1HB, for jobs in connection with the PERM process.
Outside the DOJ lawsuit, the coalition of US states is ready for a legal battle that its details are not yet known, though there are suggestions that it is linked to antitrust claims. Both Facebook and the office of New York’s Attorney General declined to comment on the matter, but it is rumored that the move must have come from Facebook’s culmination of antitrust issues dating back to 2019.
The Justice Department and FTC in 2019 began to probe the excesses of the big tech companies in the US – Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft all were in the probe list of the regulator and Congress Committee.
Since then, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, like others, has been a regular guest of antitrust hearings.
In continuation of the inquiry, the US’ tech “big four”, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple were grilled by the Congress Committee in July. It was the biggest antitrust inquiry in the United States until this week when the news of the lawsuit against Facebook by more than 40 states broke.
While speculations of unspecified course of action trail the move, Prof. Daniel Crane of University of Michigan Law told Salon that the FTC may file antitrust-related complaints bordering on Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, as it is deemed an attempt to muzzle competition.
“The most likely theory would be that the WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions thwarted the development of nascent competitors to challenge FB’s social network hegemony. Best case scenario is that the court finds those acquisitions not anticompetitive because WhatsApp and Instagram weren’t competitors of FB at the time of acquisitions. Worst case scenario; both companies have to be divested,” he said.
Zuckerberg had repeatedly denied that the intent of the acquisition was to eliminate competition, although there were leaked conversations lending credence to the allegation that he saw WhatsApp and Instagram as competitors. He was quoted in a leaked email to Facebook executives before the acquisition of Instagram, saying that “Instagram will hurt us”, referring to the picture and short-video social media platform as a competitor.
But Gus Hurwitz, an associate professor of law at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln said the big move by the states must have involved something more than the acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram.
“AS to why the states and DOJ are going after these companies, in part it’s just politics and response to understandable consumer concern. These companies are large and have made some seemingly concerning moves in recent years,” he told Salon.
Zuckerberg denied that his company has done any wrong acquiring WhatsApp and Instagram or making any other move that has been considered monopolistic. However, it didn’t stop the lawsuits from coming Facebook’s way.
The campaign about Facebook’s antitrust concerns has grown proportionately this year. In June, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) led other right groups in #StopHateForProfit protested against what they described as “hate for profit” being promoted by Facebook.
The campaign alleged that the social media company has chosen money over morality by allowing hate speech to be promoted on its platform. Thus they called on advertisers to boycott Facebook.
There’s also concern of disinformation that world leaders are worried would not only influence political elections around the world, but will negatively impact the containment of global crises like COVID-19.
How Facebook uses people’s private data for targeted ads has been top of its antitrust concerns. Since the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal, a series of other private information misuse complaints had been filed against the social media site, with some ending in settlements.
With Facebook’s population of over 3 billion users, there is growing concern about the enormous power the Silicon Valley giant is wielding. Recently, there has been a growing call to break up the social media platform alongside other big US tech companies to curtail their power, which they’re augmenting by acquiring and muzzling potential competitors.
The reported lawsuit by American states will mark the largest antitrust action against Facebook.