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FTC v. Facebook: Survey Results

FTC v. Facebook: Survey Results

Background

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Facebook to prevent it from “illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct.” The government uses antitrust regulations to promote free and fair competition and to protect consumers from anticompetitive business activities.  

At the time of this article, 46 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have also filed a lawsuit against Facebook for antitrust claims. These parties want Facebook to divest Instagram and WhatsApp to restore market competition in the social media industry. Since the claims against Facebook are quite similar, some of our findings here may also serve as indicators for how a lay audience might approach the case brought by those states.  

Method & Case Summary

Our survey [1] included a brief summary of the FTC’s case against Facebook. We drafted that summary after reviewing several news articles and videos about the FTC’s complaint in this case, as well as other cases exploring unfair competition cases against Facebook. The summary, shown below, focuses on the FTC’s allegations, a quote from Mark Zuckerberg, and a reaction from one of Facebook’s executives.

[1] This survey of 1041 United States’ residents included questions on a variety of other issues, including data privacy, social media, attitudes related to the coronavirus epidemic, and the DOJ’s antitrust case against Google.

After reading the case summary shown above, participants answered four questions:
1) Prior to reading this summary, were you aware that there was an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook about its purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp?
2) How strong is the FTC’s case against Facebook?
3) If you were asked to be a juror in this case, would you favor the FTC or Facebook?
4) If you favored [Facebook/FTC], please explain why you would favor [Facebook/FTC].

Results

1) Awareness of the Antitrust Lawsuit against Facebook
As shown in the chart below, less than half (41%) of the 1041 people we surveyed had heard about the case before reading the summary. A Google trends search of “Facebook Antitrust” shows that the there was a significant amount of coverage between December 7, 2020, when the lawsuit was filed, and December 10, 2020.  After the days immediately after the FTC filed the lawsuit, the coverage of the case was sporadic.  During that time, media coverage was saturated by post-election debates about the outcome of the election, the pandemic, and especially coverage of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

2) Case Strength
After reading the case summary, 64% of the survey’s participants believed that the case was strong, either “very strong” (21%), or “somewhat strong” (43%). Thirty-percent of the survey’s participants believed that the case against Facebook was “not too strong.” Only 6% of the respondents said that the FTC’s case was “not strong at all.”

3) Party Favored
Overall, the majority of participants (54%) said that they would favor the FTC in the antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. Twenty-six percent of our sample said that they would “definitely” favor the FTC, and 38% said that they would “probably” favor the FTC after reading the case summary. Thirty percent of the participants said that they would “probably” favor Facebook, and only 6% said that they would “definitely” favor Facebook.

4) Why Favored
After indicating which party participants would favor, we asked them to explain why they would favor that party. Many of the reasons for favoring Facebook were related to admiration of their business strategy and accomplishments, as well as the FTC previously approving the acquisitions. Reasons for favoring the FTC included negative opinions about the company’s size, ethics, and liberal political leanings.

  • Facebook has control over too much user data through multiple platforms.
  • Facebook has a monopoly over the social networking space.
  • Negative opinions about Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg
  • Want government regulation over Facebook/social media companies.
  • Social media companies, like Facebook, have a liberal bias.
  • It is not fair that Facebook bought out its biggest competitors.
  • Negative reactions to Mark Zuckerberg’s comment “It’s better to buy than to compete.”
  • Its actions are a part of good business strategy.
  • The FTC approved the two sales in question.
  • The FTC can’t just change its mind about approving the sales its already approved.
  • Facebook is well-liked and well-established.
  • There is no actual evidence of harm.
  • The companies did not have to sell to Facebook if they did not want to.
  • Facebook’s control over app integrations benefits consumers.
  • Facebook did not break the law.
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