Facebook faces lawsuits that could force sale of Instagram, WhatsApp

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Updated 11 December 2020

Facebook faces lawsuits that could force sale of Instagram, WhatsApp

  • Social media giant accused of using ‘buy or bury’ strategy to snap up rivals and keep smaller competitors at bay

WASHINGTON: Facebook Inc. could be forced to sell its prized assets WhatsApp and Instagram after the US Federal Trade Commission and nearly every US state filed lawsuits against the social media company, saying it used a “buy or bury” strategy to snap up rivals and keep smaller competitors at bay.

With the filing of the twin lawsuits on Wednesday, Facebook becomes the second big tech company to face a major legal challenge this year after the US Justice Department sued Alphabet Inc’s Google in October, accusing the $1 trillion company of using its market power to fend off rivals.

The lawsuits highlight the growing bipartisan consensus to hold Big Tech accountable for its business practices and mark a rare moment of agreement between the Trump administration and Democrats, some of whom have advocated breaking up both Google and Facebook.

The complaints on Wednesday accuse Facebook of buying up rivals, focusing specifically on its previous acquisitions of photo-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014.

Federal and state regulators said the acquisitions should be unwound — a move that is likely to set off a long legal challenge as the deals were cleared years earlier by the FTC.

“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals, snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James on behalf of the coalition of 46 states, Washington, DC and Guam. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and South Dakota did not participate in the lawsuit.

James said the company acquired rivals before they could threaten the company’s dominance.

Facebook’s general counsel Jennifer Newstead called the lawsuits “revisionist history” and said antitrust laws do not exist to punish “successful companies.” She said WhatsApp and Instagram have succeeded after Facebook invested billions of dollars in growing the apps.

“The government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final,” Newstead said.

Newstead also raised doubts about alleged harms caused by Facebook, arguing that consumers benefited from its decision to make WhatsApp free, and rivals like YouTube, Twitter and WeChat did “just fine” without access to its developer platform.

In a post on Facebook’s internal discussion platform, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees he did not anticipate “any impact on individual teams or roles” as a result of the lawsuits, which he said were “one step in a process which could take years to play out in its entirety.”

Comments were turned off for Zuckerberg’s post, as well as for other posts on the lawsuits shared by Newstead and Chief Privacy Officer for Product Michel Protti, according to copies viewed by Reuters. Newstead also warned employees not to post about the cases.

Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about the posts.

Zuckerberg told employees in July that Facebook would “go to the mat” to fight a legal challenge to break up the company, calling it an “existential” threat, according to audio of internal company meetings published by The Verge.

Although breakup remedies are rare, some antitrust experts said the case was unusually strong given damning statements by Zuckerberg plucked from Facebook’s own documents, like a 2008 email in which he said “it is better to buy than compete.”

Other experts such as Seth Bloom of Bloom Strategic Counsel said the FTC complaint was “significantly weaker” than the DOJ’s lawsuit against Google.

“We’re talking about acquisitions that are six or eight years old and it will be difficult for a court to order divestitures of many years ago,” Bloom said.

Investors echoed similar concerns.

“I do not know if the FTC or DOJ will be successful in breaking Facebook up. I’m assuming this will be dragged out in the courts as FB defends itself,” said Daniel Morgan, a portfolio manager at Synovus Trust in Atlanta, Georgia.

The lawsuits are the biggest antitrust cases in a generation, comparable to the lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. in 1998. The federal government eventually settled that case, but the yearslong court fight and extended scrutiny prevented the company from thwarting competitors and is credited with clearing the way for the explosive growth of the internet.

Last month, Facebook said it was buying customer service startup Kustomer, in an acquisition that the Wall Street Journal said valued Kustomer at $1 billion.

Facebook also bought Giphy, a popular website for making and sharing animated images, or GIFs, in May. That acquisition has already drawn scrutiny from the United Kingdom’s competition watchdog.

Journalist death toll in Israel-Hamas conflicts reaches 61, media watchdog confirms

Updated 04 December 2023

Journalist death toll in Israel-Hamas conflicts reaches 61, media watchdog confirms

  • Month of conflict represents deadliest for journalists since reports began 30 years ago
  • Israel authorities said they cannot guarantee safety of media workers in Gaza

LONDON: The toll on journalists amid the Israel-Hamas conflict has reached a grim milestone, with at least 61 media professionals confirmed dead, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday.

The breakdown of casualties includes 54 Palestinian journalists, 4 Israeli journalists, and 3 Lebanese media workers, marking the deadliest month for journalists since the CPJ began documenting fatalities in 1992.

In addition, 11 journalists were also reported injured, 3 missing, and 19 arrested.

“As of December 4, CPJ’s investigations showed at least 61 journalists and media workers were among more than 16,000 killed since the war began on October 7,” CPJ wrote in a blog post.

It added: “This deadly toll is coupled with harassment, detentions, and other reporting obstructions in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, and beyond.”

The organization has been investigating and independently verified all reports of journalists and media workers killed since Oct. 7.

CPJ said that it was also investigating unconfirmed reports of other journalists killed, missing, detained, hurt or threatened, and of damage to media offices and journalists’ homes.

Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said “that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties.”

“Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heart-breaking conflict. Those in Gaza, in particular, have paid, and continue to pay, an unprecedented toll and face exponential threats.”

Amid the escalating conflict, Israeli forces reported telling news agencies of their inability to ensure the safety of journalists working in Gaza, where the conflict resumed recently after a one-week truce.

Israel’s record on the protection of media workers has faced criticism, with calls for accountability directed at their leaders for not doing enough to prevent the targeting of journalists.

On Monday, Israeli tanks were reported to have opened fire on journalists and photographers in Gaza.

Palestinian journalist Motaz Azaiza shared the video of the incident in which he and a colleague are seen running from Israeli army projectiles fired from tanks and targeting civilians on the street, while wearing press vests.

On Sunday, Lama Al-Arian, a Beirut-based multi-Emmy-award-winning journalist, penned a poignant essay for The New York Times, recounting the loss of her friend Issam Abdallah near the Lebanese-Israeli border on Oct. 13.

She highlighted the conclusion drawn by Reporters Without Borders, stating that Issam Abdallah and the accompanying journalists were “explicitly targeted” in the attack originating from Israel.

Al-Arian underscored Israel’s persistent targeting of journalists, calling it a “deadly, decades-long pattern” for which there has been a lack of accountability for more than 22 years.

Leaders to address industry challenges at World Media Summit

Updated 04 December 2023

Leaders to address industry challenges at World Media Summit

  • More than 450 representatives from 101 countries are attending the event, themed ‘Boosting global confidence, promoting media development’
  • Among notable Saudi guests were Dr. Fahd bin Hassan Al-Aqran, president of the Saudi Press Agency, and the Saudi consul general in Guangzhou, Dr. Abdullah bin Abiyah

LONDON: The opening ceremony of the fifth World Media Summit took place on Sunday in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province in southern China. 

Taking the theme “Boosting global confidence, promoting media development,” the event has gathered together more than 450 attendees from 101 countries, including representatives from 197 mainstream media outlets.

Participants discussed various topics including human development and security, emerging technological opportunities and challenges, the role of media and market in the modern era, and other areas of common concern. 

Among notable Saudi guests were Dr. Fahd bin Hassan Al-Aqran, president of the Saudi Press Agency, and the Saudi consul general in Guangzhou, Dr. Abdullah bin Abiyah.

At the summit, the executive chairman of the WMS and president of Xinhua News Agency, Fu Hua, urged media organizations to build consensus, boost confidence in development, and uphold objectivity and truth to enhance credibility. 

He also emphasized the need to deepen exchanges and collaboration, contributing to the creation of an open, clean and inclusive world characterized by lasting peace, universal security and shared prosperity.

The summit, organized jointly by Xinhua News Agency and the provincial governments of Guangdong and Yunnan, continues in Guangzhou and Kunming until Dec. 8.

Spotify axes 17% of workforce in third round of layoffs this year

Updated 04 December 2023

Spotify axes 17% of workforce in third round of layoffs this year

  • Swedish music giant is expected to cut about 1,500 people
  • It remains unclear if layoffs are to affect MENA offices, workforce

LONDON: Spotify says it’s axing 17 percent of its global workforce, the music streaming service’s third round of layoffs this year as it moves to slash costs while focusing on becoming profitable.

In a message to employees posted on the company’s blog Monday, CEO Daniel Ek said the jobs were being cut as part of a “strategic reorientation.” The post didn’t specify how many employees would lose their jobs, but a spokesperson confirmed that it amounts to about 1,500 people.

Arab News has reached out to Spotify to understand the extent of the impact these layoffs will have on the company’s Middle East offices and its workforce.

Spotify had used cheap financing to expand the business and “invested significantly” in employees, content and marketing in 2020 and 2021, the blog post said.

But Ek indicated that the company was caught out as central banks started hiking interest rates last year, which can slow economic growth. Both are posing a challenge, he said.

“We now find ourselves in a very different environment. And despite our efforts to reduce costs this past year, our cost structure for where we need to be is still too big,” he said.

Ek said the “leaner structure” of the company will ensure “Spotify’s continued profitability.”

Stockholm-based Spotify posted a net loss of 462 million euros (about $500 million) for the nine months to September.

The company announced in January that it was axing 6 percent of total staff. In June, it cut staff by another 2 percent, or about 200 workers, mainly in its podcast division.

Tech companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Meta and IBM have announced hundreds of thousands of job cuts this year.

With AP

Saudi calls to boycott TikTok mount as platform denies discrimination

Updated 03 December 2023

Saudi calls to boycott TikTok mount as platform denies discrimination

  • Campaign follows reports of alleged censorship of Saudi content
  • Google Trends shows 25% decline for TikTok since last month
  • Short-form video giant labels boycott campaign a ‘smear act’

LONDON: Calls to boycott TikTok in Saudi Arabia have intensified since the launch of a campaign accusing the video platform of unjustly censoring and banning Saudi accounts expressing positive views about the Kingdom.

The momentum behind the boycott has grown as concerns over TikTok’s alleged algorithm manipulation and biased treatment continue to provoke outrage among the platform’s Saudi user base.

Many users have turned to alternative social platforms to denounce TikTok’s alleged restricting of pro-Saudi content, with the trending hashtag #BoycottTiktok accompanied by posts urging Saudis to delete the app.

One X user, @ayedarini, urged others to boycott the app, claiming the platform is engaging in a “war against us.”

The user added: “It has become clear that it is targeting Saudi accounts and promoting everything against them and their country. Boycotting it has become a duty for every Saudi.”


A recent post by @X_Tiktok_, a dedicated profile advocating for the platform’s ban in the Kingdom, expressed strong disapproval of TikTok’s “unacceptable” and “abusive” behavior, pledging to persist in its campaign against the platform.

“TikTok still continues its malicious bias with its violating policies on Saudi users’ posts, especially national clips,” the post said. “Saudi Arabia remains a red line and the Saudi people remain strong and strict in their defense of their country, religion and leadership.”


Influential social media personalities and celebrities have lent their support to the campaign, leveraging their substantial followings to amplify the message and motivate others to join the boycott. The Saudi private sector has also responded to the boycott’s impact.

Citing a source close to the Saudi First Division League earlier in November, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that the the second tier of professional football in Saudi Arabia had cut off its relationship with TikTok due to the platform’s alleged actions against Saudi content.

Popular social media news channel The Saudi Post announced on Thursday the cessation of its publications and the closure of all its accounts on the platform.

TikTok issued a statement on Wednesday, denying allegations of restricting Saudi content and dismissing the campaign as a “coordinated action.”

The app said in a statement: “The rumors regarding TikTok removing content related to Saudi Arabia are not true. We strongly reject these allegations that are inconsistent with our policies and values.

“We strongly reject the deliberate smear campaigns that are practiced on our employees and partners and threaten their security and safety.”


Political analyst and media personality Salman Al-Ansari commented on the boycott, saying that the platform’s statement lacked any “commitment to corrective measures,” which would only escalate the campaign.

This year, TikTok reported having 26 million active users in Saudi Arabia, positioning it as the second most popular social platform after YouTube.

Data indicates that the boycott has resulted in a decline in the number of Saudi TikTok users. According to Google Trends, the popularity of the term “TikTok” has decreased by 25 percent since the campaign began.

In an effort to rebuild trust, TikTok launched a dedicated hashtag page for Saudi content on its platform.

Despite these measures, the boycott is gaining momentum, transforming into a symbol of public discontent and a defense of Saudi Arabia.

The campaign’s uncertain impact on TikTok’s user base and the platform’s reputation highlights the growing power of collective action by social media users, an area in which TikTok has faced scrutiny.

In the last few years, TikTok and parent company ByteDance have faced intense criticism for handling sensitive user data, leading to calls for a ban in the US.

In November, congress members, activists and tech investors renewed demands for a TikTok ban, alleging bias in content related to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Nepal last month announced a full ban of TikTok in the country, saying that the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform was “detrimental to social harmony.”

Gaza’s Hamas rulers say 3 journalists killed in Israeli raids

Updated 02 December 2023

Gaza’s Hamas rulers say 3 journalists killed in Israeli raids

  • Gaza’s deadliest war began when Hamas militants on October 7 launched a shock attack on southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s Hamas-run government said three journalists were killed in Israeli raids on Friday as fierce fighting resumed after a week-long truce.
The government press office identified the three as cameraman Muntassir Al-Sawwaf, who worked for Turkiye’s Anadolu state news agency, his brother Marwan, who worked as a soundman, and cameraman Abdullah Darwish.
It said their deaths brought to 73 the number of journalists killed since the war began on October 7.
The Turkish agency confirmed Friday the death of Sawwaf and two others who it did not name in southern Gaza.
“We are concerned about the lives of our colleagues, who fulfil their duties with great devotion under very difficult conditions,” Anadolu general director Serdar Karagoz said.
“We will continue our struggle to ensure that those who carried out these attacks are held to account.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said earlier Friday that at least 57 journalists and media workers had died since the start of the war.
Gaza’s deadliest war began when Hamas militants on October 7 launched a shock attack on southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.
Israel responded with an air and artillery assault on the Gaza Strip that it said aimed to topple Hamas and return more than 240 hostages.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said at least 178 people had died in the territory since a seven-day pause in hostilities expired early Friday and ground battles and Israel air strikes resumed.
During the truce, Hamas freed 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas authorities say the Israeli campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, mostly civilians.