By:
December 10, 2020

In what might be its biggest threat since it blew up and took over the internet, Facebook is under fire for being too big. And now the company is in the crosshairs of some powerful forces.

In separate lawsuits, the Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states say Facebook illegally crushed the competition by buying up its rivals in order to dominate social media. The gist of the lawsuits: Facebook bought up rivals, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, to essentially eliminate them from someday cutting into their business.

In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

Maybe that’s smart business, but according to the lawsuits, it might not be legal and is bad for small businesses and users.

In a press conference, New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.”

Again, using Instagram and WhatsApp as examples, Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion.

As Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac of The New York Times wrote, “Since those deals, Instagram and WhatsApp have skyrocketed in popularity, giving Facebook control over three of the world’s most popular social media and messaging apps. The applications have helped catapult Facebook from a company started in a college dorm room 16 years ago to an internet powerhouse valued at more than $800 billion.”

Because of that, prosecutors want Facebook to be forced to divest Instagram and WhatsApp.

In a tweet, Facebook said, “We’re reviewing the complaints & will have more to say soon. Years after the FTC cleared our acquisitions, the government now wants a do-over with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day.”

Facebook appears to have already been digging in for this fight. CNN’s Brian Fung writes, “As the drumbeat in Washington against Facebook has grown louder, the company has had years to prepare for a showdown. It’s moved to tightly integrate its apps on a technical level, a decision some critics have suggested is a strategy to frustrate any potential breakup. It’s stepped up its hiring of lawyers with antitrust and litigation experience. And the company has fine-tuned its talking points, settling on a narrative that Facebook welcomes regulation but that cracking down too hard could risk giving other countries like China a competitive edge in the fast-moving technology sector.”

In a statement, Facebook general counsel Jennifer Newstead said, “The most important fact in this case, which the commission does not mention in its 53-page complaint, is that it cleared these acquisitions years ago. The government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final.”

Twitch cracks down

In other online news, Twitch — a livestream platform popular among those who play video games — put out new guidelines on Wednesday. They are aimed at cracking down on hate speech and conduct, as well as sexual harassment.

The New York Times’ Kellen Browning writes, “The company also said it would prohibit streamers from displaying the Confederate battle flag and take stricter action against those who target someone’s immigration status. Violators could receive warnings, temporary suspensions or permanent bans from the platform.”

Browning added, “Twitch said the changes were its most significant policy updates in almost three years. They followed a nearly yearlong review that included consultations with streamers and academics who study cyberbullying, diversity and inclusion, the company said. The new standards will take effect in January.”

In an interview with Browning, Sara Clemens, Twitch’s chief operating officer, said, “We need to ensure that anyone who shows up on Twitch feels safe and confident that they can broadcast without harassment. There are constituents on Twitch, particularly underrepresented minority groups, who experience a disproportionate amount of harassment and abuse online.”

Still waiting

A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

How much of the coronavirus vaccine is pre-positioned in key locations around the country?

None of it.

That’s what Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told “NBC Nightly News” on Wednesday evening. Perna said, “All the vaccine is currently with Pfizer and or Moderna and we will not move it forward until we have an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization).”

Should that be concerning? Will there be a long delay once they have authorization? Perna said, “We’ve worked many rehearsals and planning cycles to determine execution following EUA and that’s why I’m confident that as soon as EUA comes aboard, we’ll start packing to the final destinations and distribution will begin within 24 hours.”

Perna told NBC News that the states (and not the military) will be in charge of most of the logistics and actually giving the vaccinations. He anticipates up to 40 million doses will be delivered by the end of the year, meaning 20 million will be administered the vaccine.”

Going home

In a heartwarming story for The New York Times, Howard Beck writes about how covering the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals allowed him to spend extra time with this father, who lived in California. I was a sportswriter for more than 30 years, and I can relate to Beck’s story. Yes, there are a lot worse ways to make a living than traveling around the country covering games. Still, all those late-night deadlines followed by early-morning wake-up calls so you could race to the airport to stand in long lines to get to the next city and cab ride and hotel and arena or stadium can be draining.

But it is often cushioned by the chance to spend extra time with loved ones who might live near where your next game is. Beck nails what it’s like to be a sportswriter with this passage:

“We don’t root for teams in this business. But we do (quietly) root for results out of self-interest. We root for great stories and historic performances — and against games going to overtime on deadline.”

And that self-interest often includes a chance to spend more time with those close to us — as Beck did with this father.

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Costas on Twitter? Not so fast

Bob Costas. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)

As I was scrolling through Twitter on Tuesday night, I came across what appeared to be a new Twitter user: veteran sportscaster Bob Costas. The initial tweet was, essentially, that he was going to see what this Twitter was all about. I’ve known Costas on a professional level for nearly 30 years and have always admired his work and so I immediately gave the new Twitter account a follow. So did 20,000 others.

Turns out, we all were duped. It’s a fake account, according to Costas’ son, Keith, who tweeted the account was not really his father’s. Costas’ agent, Sandy Montag, confirmed it was a fake account to New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand. Twitter suspended the account Wednesday morning.

Where the money went

Check out the first paragraph from this story by NBC News’ April Glaser and Olivia Solon:

“Fourteen organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League have received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program totaling $4.3 million, according to data released last week by the Small Business Administration, revealing who benefited from the pandemic federal relief funds.”

NBC News was one of 11 newsrooms that sued for the release of the information.

Fact check

If you tweet something out that makes a strong declaration — especially if you’re the president of the United States — just know that you’re going to be fact-checked. So you better be right.

President Trump tweeted out Wednesday, “No candidate has ever won both Florida and Ohio and lost. I won them both, by a lot! #SupremeCourt”

It took the press about four seconds to call this out as simply not true. In 1960, Richard Nixon won both Florida and Ohio and yet lost the presidential election to John Kennedy.

Media tidbits

MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki at the NFL playoff big board on NBC. (Courtesy: NBC)

  • MSNBC political analyst and big board map ace Steve Kornacki was such a hit last weekend on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” that NBC announced Wednesday that Kornacki will return for the rest of the season. For the final month of the season, Kornacki will appear on “Sunday Night Football” and its pregame show, using his big board to break down the NFL playoff scenarios. Who said everything in 2020 is bad?
  • CNN’s Brian Stelter notes that the pro-Trump cable news network Newsmax scored a surprising ratings win over Fox News for the first time ever earlier this week. In the key 25-54 demographic, Newsmax’s “Greg Kelly Reports” did better than Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum” on Monday night. Now, the numbers were small and the victory was slim (229,000 viewers to 203,000), but still, it’s another sign of Newsmax’s growing popularity and the possibility it could cut into some of Fox News’ dominance among right-leaning viewers. In the end, however, call me skeptical that Newsmax will be a serious threat to Fox News. Their shows and their talent seem almost amateurish compared to Fox News.
  • ProPublica announced Wednesday that it has hired three editors for local initiatives. Sarah Blustain will be deputy editor, local; Mara Shalhoup will be the South editor; and Michael Squires will become Southwest editor. Blustain comes from Type Investigations. Shalhoup is currently the deputy editor of Atlanta Magazine. And Squires is currently the investigative editor at The Arizona Republic. In a statement, ProPublica managing editor Charles Ornstein said, “These extraordinary editors are ideal choices to help lead ProPublica’s efforts to support local accountability journalism.”
  • Interesting tweet sent out Wednesday by Michael Barbaro, host of The New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast. He wrote, “In February of 2009, NYT stock dipped below $5 a share. Today, for the first time, it hit $50 a share. A wonderful vote of confidence from the markets that the company is healthy and thriving.”
  • Barack Obama is still a huge ratings draw, even in late night. The second half of his interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Nov. 30 reached 3.80 million viewers — a big number for that time of night.
  • Al Michaels, perhaps the best football announcer today and famously known for his “Do you believe in miracles?” hockey call during the 1980 Olympics, received one of the biggest honors of his career on Wednesday … for his work in baseball. Michaels is the Baseball Hall of Fame’s selection for the 2021 Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence. Michaels called baseball at the local level in both Cincinnati and San Francisco, but is best known for his national work at ABC. These days, Michaels is a play-by-play announcer on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

Feel-good video of the day

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is having a rough go of it this season. The Eagles stink and many are blaming Wentz, who just lost his starting job. But you should watch this video from a young fan offering Wentz encouragement. This is just terrific, and will make your day.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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