The Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against Meta for allegedly violating antitrust laws will proceed after a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the agency's second complaint against the company formerly known as Facebook.
Judge James Boasberg said Meta must face the complaint, which claims the company sought to undermine competition with its acquisitions, including the purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp. Last June, Boasberg dismissed the FTC's first suit but allowed the agency to submit a new version that more carefully defined the market Facebook was allegedly monopolizing — a key first step in competition lawsuits.
The original complaint was filed in 2020, at the tail end of the Trump administration, but Lina Khan, President Joe Biden's choice for chair, oversaw the renewed filing, which used new data and said Facebook undertook the acquisitions because it had fallen behind on mobile.
The renewed complaint is viewed as a test of the court's openness to new aggressive antitrust enforcement. Defendants generally face high bars to success on motions to dismiss, but in his explaining his decision, Boasberg wrote it's an open question "whether the FTC will be able to prove its case."
Boasberg also noted that the company had tried "a flanking maneuver" by arguing Khan's statements about Facebook before she joined the commission suggest she was biased against the company and shouldn't have been able to participate in revamping the lawsuit. The judge said "such contention misses its target," because perfect neutrality is not required of those in prosecutor-like roles.
Meta said in a statement it is "confident the evidence will reveal the fundamental weakness of the claims" and noted that the FTC has previously allowed the deals for Instagram and WhatsApp to proceed. The deals "have been good for competition, and good for the people and businesses that choose to use our products,” a spokesperson said.
Holly Vedova, the director of the FTC's competition bureau, said in a statement: “FTC staff presented a strong amended complaint, and we look forward to trial.”
This story was updated with additional details from Boasberg's ruling and statements from Meta and the FTC.