- The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Facebook on Wednesday, alleging antitrust violations and asking a federal court to force the company to sell off assets such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
- The same day, attorneys general for 48 other states also filed another lawsuit against the $1 trillion company. The suit accused Facebook of implementing a “buy-or-bury” strategy meant to target and snuff out competition in the industry.
- These lawsuits represent the most significant legal and political challenge to Facebook’s exponential growth in the company’s history.
- On Thursday, German regulators also launched an antitrust investigation into Facebook’s decision to link Oculus VR products to its social network.
FTC Sues Facebook for Antitrust Violations
Facebook faces two antitrust lawsuits filed in federal court on Wednesday as well as a separate antitrust investigation launched in Germany on Thursday, making it a tough week for the tech giant.
The first of those lawsuits was brought by the Federal Trade Commission, which accused Facebook of engaging in illegal tactics meant to suppress its competition in the social media industry.
“Facebook has maintained its monopoly position by buying up companies that present competitive threats and by imposing restrictive policies that unjustifiably hinder actual or potential rivals that Facebook does not or cannot acquire,” the FTC said on the opening page of its lawsuit.
Specifically, the FTC referenced two social media platforms: Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion, and WhatsApp, which it bought for $19 billion two years later.
The FTC is asking a federal court in the D.C. Circuit to force Facebook to sell-off both Instagram and WhatsApp so that they can once again become independent businesses.
The lawsuit cites 2012 comments from CEO Mark Zuckerberg where he said Instagram threatened to leave Facebook “very behind in both functionality and brand.”
It also noted that Zuckerberg once called WhatsApp “the next biggest consumer risk” to Facebook.
Besides Instagram and WhatsApp, the lawsuit also mentions the now-defunct video-sharing app Vine. Notably, Vine led to the rise of creators who have now become household names, including Jake and Logan Paul, Lele Pons, Liza Koshy, and David Dobrik. It was also the starting point for more traditional celebrities like Shawn Mendes.
When Vine first came out in 2013, users were able to find friends on the app using connectivity to Facebook; however, Zuckerberg later approved a move to cut off the functionality. Because of that, the FTC lawsuit argues Vine was stripped of a feature that would have helped it’s ability to grow.
48 States File Second Antitrust Lawsuit
Alongside that lawsuit, another antitrust lawsuit against Facebook was filed by attorneys general in 48 states Wednesday.
While announcing that lawsuit, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Facebook’s practices have “squeezed oxygen” from the tech industry.
“Today, we are sending a clear and strong message to Facebook and every other company that any efforts to stifle competition, hurt small business, reduce innovation and creativity, [and] cut privacy protections will be met with the full force of our offices,” James added.
The lawsuit itself denounces Facebook’s “bury-or-buy strategy,” which forces users who are “otherwise dissatisfied with the data usage and privacy options available on Facebook” to “have nowhere else to go.”
Unlike the FTC lawsuit, this lawsuit doesn’t explicitly call for Facebook to be broken up; rather, the attorneys general are asking the D.C. court to stop Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct in general, while asking the court to take any other action it views as necessary.
Facebook: Lawsuits Are “Revisionist History”
Facebook Vice President and General Counsel Jennifer Newstead has criticized the lawsuits as “revisionist history.”
She noted that at the time Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp, the FTC approved both acquisitions.
“The government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final,” she said. “Antitrust laws exist to protect consumers and promote innovation, not to punish successful businesses.”
“People and small businesses don’t choose to use Facebook’s free services and advertising because they have to, they use them because our apps and services deliver the most value.”
As legal experts have pointed out, the government is well within its rights to pursue these lawsuits.
For one, Newstead’s “revisionist history” lacks context.
When the FTC originally approved Facebook’s acquisition of WhatApp, it did so with the promise that Facebook would preserve WhatsApp’s independence and privacy protections; however, over the last year, Facebook has been working to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook Messenger. As a result, regulators have described the plan as a bait-and-switch tactic that has the potential to eliminate WhatsApp’s privacy protections, after having also eliminated it as a competitor.
On top of that, Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress multiple times this year alone because of antitrust concerns.
In October, House Democrats also unveiled a 450-page antitrust report against Facebook, as well as Google, Amazon, and Apple.
“Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy,” lawmakers noted.
Wednesday’s lawsuits are undoubtedly meant to be a step in that direction. In fact, they represent the most significant legal and political challenge to Facebook’s exponential growth in the company’s history.
Still, a resolution on this issue could take years. Reportedly, Zuckerberg himself even noted that in an internal discussion with employees, telling them that he didn’t yet anticipate “any impact on individual teams or roles.”
Germany Launches Investigation into Facebook VR
On Thursday, German regulators announced they were launching an investigation into Facebook’s decision to require people to create Facebook accounts in order to be able to use their Oculus virtual reality products.
“Linking virtual reality products and the group’s social network in this way could constitute a prohibited abuse of dominance by Facebook,” investigators said.
The lawsuits and this investigation are the latest in governmental moves around the world to regulate big tech industries.
Last month, the European Union filed its own antitrust charges against Amazon, accusing it of using its access to data from companies that sell products on its platform to gain an unfair advantage over them.
In October, the United States Justice Department and 11 states sued Google and accused it of cornering the market in search-related advertising.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Reuters) (The Washington Post)
TikTok and Twitter Are Now Deleting Videos That Expose Closeted Olympians on Grindr
On top of outing people who may not be ready to have their sexuality revealed to the world, these videos could have endangered LGBTQ+ athletes from countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Closeted Olympians Being Doxxed
Openly LGBTQ+ Olympians are currently more visible than they have ever been before, but unfortunately, so are closeted ones.
That’s because some people have been using the LGBTQ+ dating app Grindr to try and find Olympians. They’ve been doing so by using the app’s “Explore” feature, which allows people to search and see users in specific locations (ie. Olympic Village).
But some aren’t content with just discovering which athletes belong to the LGBTQ+ community. They’re also sharing that information on platforms like TikTok and Twitter.
“I used Grindr’s explore feature to find myself [an] Olympian boyfriend,” one TikTok user said in a post that had been viewed 140,000 times, according to Insider.
That video reportedly went on to show the poster scrolling through Grindr to expose over 30 users’ full faces.
As many have argued, not only does this potentially out already-stressed Olympians who may not yet be comfortable sharing their sexuality, it also could put some users at serious risk if they live in countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal.
In fact, the video cited by Insider seemingly did just that, as it reportedly shows the face of a user who appears to be from a country “known for its anti-LGBTQ policies.”
Grindr Responds, TikTok and Twitter Take Action
In response, Grindr said the posts violate its rules against “publicly displaying, publishing, or otherwise distributing any content or information” from the app. It then asked the posters to remove the content.
Ultimately, it was TikTok and Twitter themselves that largely took action, with the two deleting at least 14 posts scattered across their platforms.
Twitter says it’s taking steps to remove the posts flagged by Insider showing Grindr’s explore page at the Olympic Village. TikTok has yet to give an on the record response. pic.twitter.com/r11pNL6Lwu— Benjamin Goggin (@BenjaminGoggin) July 28, 2021
A Highly-Visible LGBTQ+ Presence at the Games
According to Outsports, at least 172 of around 11,000 Olympians are openly LGBTQ+. While that number is still well below the statistical average, it’s triple the number of LGBTQ+ athletes that attended Rio’s 2016 Games.
In fact, if they were their own country, openly LGBTQ+ athletes would reportedly rank 11th in medals, according to an Outsports report published Tuesday.
Among those winners is British diver Tom Daley, who secured his first gold medal on Monday and used his platform to send a hopeful message to LGBTQ+ youth by telling them, “You are not alone.”
After winning a silver medal on Wednesday, U.S. swimmer Erica Sullivan talked about her experience as both a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a person of color.
Still, the Olympics has faced criticism for its exclusion of intersex individuals, particularly those like South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, who won gold medals in both 2012 and 2016. Rules implemented in 2019 now prevent Semenya from competing as a woman without the use of medication to suppress her testosterone levels.
Jake Paul Launches Anti-Bullying Charity
The charity, called Boxing Bullies, aims to use the sport to give kids confidence and courage.
Jake Paul Launches Boxing Bullies Foundation
YouTuber Jake Paul — best known as the platform’s boxer, wreckless partier, and general troublemaker — has seemingly launched a non-profit to combat bullying.
The charity is called Boxing Bullies. According to a mission statement posted on Instagram, it aims to “instill self confidence, leadership, and courage within the youth through the sport of boxing while using our platform, voice, and social media to fight back against bullying.”
If the notion of a Paul-founded anti-bullying charity called “Boxing Bullies” was not already begging to be compared to former First Lady Melania Trump’s “Best Best” initiative, maybe the group’s “Boxing Bullies Commandments” will help connect the dots. Those commandments use an acronym for the word “BOX” to spell out the charity’s golden rules.
“Be kind to everyone; Only defend, never initiate; X-out bullying.”
Paul Hopes To “Inspire” Kids To Stand Up For Themselves
Paul first said he was launching Boxing Bullies during a July 13 interview following a press conference for his upcoming fight against Tyron Woodley.
“I know who I am at the end of the day, which is a good person,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to change this sport, bring more eyeballs. I’m trying to support other fighters, increase fighter pay. I’m starting my charity, I’m launching that in 12 days here called Boxing Bullies and we’re helping to fight against cyberbullying.”
It has not been quite 12 days since the interview, so it’s likely that more information about the organization will be coming soon. Currently, the group has been the most active on Instagram, where it boasts a following of just around 1,200 followers. It has posted once to Twitter, where it has 32 followers; and has a TikTok account that has yet to publish any content. It also has a website, though there is not too much on it as of yet.
On its Instagram, one post introducing Paul as the founder claims the rowdy YouTuber started this charity because he has been on the receiving end of bullying.
“Having been a victim of bullying himself, Jake experienced firsthand the impact it has on a person’s life,” the post says. “Jake believes that this is a prevailing issue in society that isn’t talked about enough. Boxing gave Jake the confidence to not care about what others think and he wants to share the sport and the welfare it‘s had on him with as many kids as possible.”
It adds that he hopes his group can“inspire the next generation of kids to be leaders, be athletes, and to fight back against bullying.”
Paul Previously Accused of Being a Bully
While fighting against bullying is a noble cause, it is an ironic project for Paul to start, as he has faced no shortage of bullying accusations. While Paul previously sang about “stopping kids from getting bullied” in the lunchroom, some have alleged he himself was actually a classic high school bully who threw kids’ backpacks into garbage cans.
This behavior allegedly continued into his adulthood, as a New York Times report from earlier this year claimed he ran his Team 10 house with a culture of toxicity and bullying. Among other things, sources said he involved others in violent pranks, pressured people into doing dangerous stunts, and destroyed peoples’ personal property to make content.
See what others are saying: (Dexerto)
Director Defends Recreating Anthony Bourdain’s Voice With AI in New Documentary
The film’s director claims he received permission from Bourdain’s estate and literary agent, but on Thursday, Bourdain’s widow publicly denied ever giving that permission.
Bourdain’s Voice Recreated
“You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” Anthony Bourdain says in a voiceover featured in “Roadrunnner,” a newly released documentary about the late chef — except Bourdain never actually said those words aloud.
Instead, it’s one of three lines in the film, which features frequent voiceovers from Bourdain, that were created through the use of artificial intelligence technology.
That said, the words are Bourdain’s own. In fact, they come from an email Bourdain reportedly wrote to a friend prior to his 2018 suicide. Nonetheless, many have now questioned whether recreating Bourdain’s voice was ethical, especially since documentaries are meant to reflect reality.
Director Defends Use of AI Voice
The film’s director, Academy Award winner Morgan Neville, has defended his use of the synthetic voice, telling Variety that he received permission from Bourdain’s estate and literary agent before inserting the lines into the film.
“There were a few sentences that Tony wrote that he never spoke aloud,” Neville said. “It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I thought it was important to make Tony’s words come alive.”
Bourdain’s widow — Ottavia Bourdain, who is the executor of his estate — later denied Neville’s claim on Twitter, saying, “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.”
In another interview with GQ, Neville described the process, saying the film’s creators “fed more than ten hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model.”
“The bigger the quantity, the better the result,” he added. “We worked with four companies before settling on the best.”
“If you watch the film,” Neville told The New Yorker, “you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know. We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”
The Ethics Debate Isn’t Being Tabled
But many want to have that discussion now.
Boston-based film critic Sean Burns, who gave the film a rare negative review, later criticized it again for its unannounced use of AI, saying he wasn’t aware that Bourdain’s voice had been recreated until after he watched the documentary.
Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner wrote that the “seamlessness of the effect is eerie.”
“If it had been a human voice double I think the reaction would be “huh, ok,” but there’s something truly unsettling about the idea of it coming from a computer,” Rosner later tweeted.
Online, many others have criticized the film’s use of AI, with some labeling it as a “deepfake.”
Others have offered more mixed criticism, saying that while the documentary highlights the need for posthumous AI use to be disclosed, it should not be ruled out altogether.
“In a world where the living could consent to using AI to reproduce their voices posthumously, and where people were made aware that such a technology was being used, up front and in advance, one could envision that this kind of application might serve useful documentary purposes,” David Leslie, ethics lead at the Alan Turing Institute, told the BBC.
Celebrities Recreated After Death
The posthumous use of celebrity likeness in media is not a new debate. In 2012, a hologram of Tupac took the stage 15 years after his death. In 2014, the Billboard Music Awards brought a hologram of Michael Jackson onstage five years after his death. Meanwhile, the Star Wars franchise digitally recreated actor Peter Cushing in 2016’s “Rogue One,” and unused footage of actress Carrie Fisher was later translated into “The Rise of Skywalker,” though a digital version of Fisher was never used.
In recent years, it has become almost standard for filmmakers to say that they will not create digital versions of characters whose actors die unexpectedly. For example, several months after Chadwick Boseman’s death last year, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” executive producer Victoria Alonso confirmed Boseman would not be digitally recreated for his iconic role as King T’Challa.