Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg pushed back on claims that the social media giant has engaged in anti-competitive business practices in an interview that aired Thursday, hours after federal and state officials announced plans to take antitrust action against the company.
Officials have accused Facebook of using its wealth to squelch competition by buying rival social media platforms before they can become direct competitors. During an appearance on “The Tamron Hall Show,” Sandberg, Facebook’s second-most senior executive, pointed to the existence of popular services such as TikTok, Snapchat and Apple’s iMessage as proof that competition is strong.
“If you want to get electricity today for your home, you’ve got one choice, but you’ve got lots of choice for your time and attention,” Sandberg said. “I think it’s hard to argue that there’s not competition. I also think it’s worth remembering that when we bought Instagram and WhatsApp, they were really small, little companies.”
In a sweeping antitrust lawsuit, a bipartisan coalition of 48 state attorneys general identified Facebook’s purchases of Instagram for $1 billion and WhatsApp for $19 billion as anticompetitive actions. New York Attorney General Letitia James said Facebook acquired Instagram “when the company did not even have a cent in revenue” and argued it paid far more for WhatsApp than what industry analysts deemed to be market value for the messaging app.
The Federal Trade Commission filed suit in a bid to unwind Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram. The state attorneys general have pledged to coordinate antitrust action with the FTC.
Sandberg noted that federal regulators had previously approved both transactions.
“We’ve faced real competition and those acquisitions were cleared,” Sandberg said. “If you can buy a company and eight years, 10 years later, the government can clear it then and unwind it, that’s going to be a really big chilling problem for American business. We are not going to be competitive around the world."
Asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think that would be a good idea.”