More important, when the federal government opted not to block Facebook’s mergers with companies like Instagram, it explicitly reserved the right to take another look at the mergers (and in any event, the states were not involved in the federal government’s original decision). There is often information that the government cannot access or know at the time it reviews a merger, but which emerges later. As it often does, the passage of time has made things clearer: Facebook’s conduct became more obviously anticompetitive and the lasting nature of its monopoly became undeniable.
A more radical defense of Facebook suggests a monopolist’s buying up its rivals is just “the Silicon Valley way.” But that is a recipe for monopolistic immortality and, ultimately, an acceptance of monopoly capitalism. There have been nations — prewar Germany, today’s China — that have embraced such a thing. But in the United States, we have repeatedly rejected it through the democratic process. Unfortunately we’ve been backsliding for two decades, which is why the reassertion of the rules is so important.
The Facebook lawsuit is what lawyers call a “big case,” for it may transform the tech industry. It joins a tradition of such cases, including the antitrust suits against Standard Oil, American Tobacco, Alcoa, IBM, AT&T and Microsoft. None of those cases damaged the American economy. On the contrary, the lawsuits were aimed at monopolies that had squashed competition, and they resulted in revitalized, reorganized and ultimately more innovative industries.
It has been more than 20 years since the United States has taken as serious a look at the practices of big business as it is doing now. By that measure, the case against Facebook is long overdue.
Tim Wu (@superwuster) is a law professor at Columbia, a contributing opinion writer and the author, most recently, of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”
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