Chairman of House antitrust subcommittee calls for Facebook to be broken up after big tech hearing: 'classic monopoly behavior'

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Chairman of House antitrust subcommittee calls for Facebook to be broken up after big tech hearing: 'classic monopoly behavior'
US Rep David Cicilline, left, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters; Stephen Lam/Reuters
  • At Wednesday's big tech antitrust hearing, lawmakers grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp as part of an investigation into possible monopolistic practices.
  • Text messages and internal emails unveiled during the hearing showed how Zuckerberg viewed both apps as competitors that could harm Facebook's business, and saw their acquisitions partly as an attempt to "neutralize" them.
  • The hearing, part of the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee's inquiry into big tech, saw the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, and Google testifying alongside Zuckerberg.
  • After the event, David Cicilline, the chair of the antitrust subcommittee, told Axios' "Re:Cap" podcast that he thought Facebook's testimony exhibited signs of "classic monopoly behavior" and that the company should be broken up.

The US congressman who chaired Wednesday's big tech antitrust hearing said Mark Zuckerberg's testimony proves Facebook displayed "classic monopoly behavior" and should be broken up.

Rep. David Cicilline was interviewed Wednesday night after the House hearing on Axios "Re:Cap" podcast, where he said Facebook showed the clearest form of anticompetitive behavior. Cicilline told Axios that Zuckerberg's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp were done as a way to control Facebook competitors.

"As a result he maintained and enlarged his market dominance," Cicilline said in the Axios interview. "That's a classic action of a monopolist."

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A trove of internal Facebook emails and text messages were also unveiled during Wednesday's hearing to demonstrate possible anticompetitive practices taken during the company acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. Lawmakers published several email threads and online chat logs showing conversations that showed the mindset and thinking of Zuckerberg and various Facebook executives at the time.

"I think in particular, when you think about Facebook — which Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged in this hearing — his acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram were part of a play to both buy a competitor and maintain his monopoly power, or dominance," Cicilline repeated. "That's classic monopoly behavior."

In emails Zuckerberg sent in 2012 obtained by The Verge, Zuckerberg called Instagram a "threat," and reasoned that buying Instagram may be a way to successfully neutralize its success. Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom also voiced concerns Zuckerberg would go into "destroy mode" if he didn't agree to Facebook buying Instagram.

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During the hearing, Zuckerberg acknowledged to lawmakers that Facebook saw Instagram as both "a competitor and a complement to our services."

Although Facebook's purchases of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 weren't challenged at the time, lawmakers at Wednesday's hearing heavily scrutinized the company's history.

Zuckerberg — as well as the CEOs of Apple, Google, and Amazon — appeared in front of Congress to answer lawmakers' questions about any potential violations of antitrust regulations. Cicilline appeared to single out Facebook after the hearing.

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Cicilline told Axios that the committee's report is expected to come out in late August or early September

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