Approximately 40 state attorneys general, including Democrats and Republicans, intend to join New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, in an antitrust investigation of Facebook.
The buoying figure was confirmed to the Washington Post on Monday by three sources familiar with the matter. Because James is continuing to seek support from other states, there could be even more participants by the time the investigation is officially announced. The probe will look into whether Facebook has, as James put it last month, “endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices or increased the price of advertising.”
Facebook responded to the news by referring to a previous statement from Will Castleberry, the company’s vice president of state and local policy, saying that the corporation would “work constructively with state attorneys general, and we welcome a conversation with policymakers about the competitive environment in which we operate.”
James and her colleagues joining her probe are not alone in scrutinizing Facebook. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are also conducting antitrust investigations into the company, with Axios reporting that James met with Attorney General William Barr, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Associate Attorney General for antitrust Makan Delrahim on Monday in order to discuss their respective work.
When she first announced the probe into possible Facebook antitrust violations last month, James was joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and the District of Columbia. Her antitrust investigation came shortly before a coalition of 48 states and U.S. territories announced an antitrust probe into Google, with Texas' Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton saying that the company "dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet.”
Both antitrust actions are part of a larger bipartisan effort to rein in those search engine and social media giants, which are perceived as having abused users’ trust and stifled competition. Democrats and Republicans also have their own specific partisan reasons for targeting the companies: Liberals claim that the companies do not do an adequate job of policing right-wing conspiracy theories and bigotry, while conservatives accuse the companies of discriminating against their viewpoints.
2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., responded to the news of the expanded antitrust investigation on Twitter by noting that Facebook had recently “ramped up” its lobbying spending.
“If my plan to tax excessive lobbying had been in place during that time, Facebook would've paid $39 million in taxes—money that could've been directed to the FTC's antitrust efforts,” Warren concluded. “We have to break the grip of corporate lobbyists on Washington.”
Last month, a leaked audio file revealed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had vowed to “go to the mat” against Warren if she tried to break up Facebook as president. He also discounted the idea that breaking up Facebook and other large Silicon Valley companies like Amazon and Google would effectively address election security issues.
“It makes it more likely, because now the companies can't coordinate and work together,” Zuckerberg said during the open meetings.