Give Facebook credit. It has managed to do the one thing no one else could—bring Republican and Democratic politicians together. The Federal Trade Commission and 46 states yesterday sued for a breakup of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, and an amazingly bipartisan chorus of political voices shouted support for the move. This case may be the only smooth hand-off that happens from the Trump administration to the Biden administration.
And let’s be clear: the case is hardly a slam dunk. Facebook was quick to make the strongest argument against it, which is this: the agency signed off on both acquisitions when they happened in 2012 and 2014. Have the facts changed? If it was okay then, why not now?
What’s changed, of course, is the political environment. Facebook itself has gone from tech darling to Darth Vader—accused by Republicans and Democrats alike of destroying democracy. In its efforts to fix the problem, the company has only further angered Republicans—who feel the left coast company has it in for them. But a Democratic administration could prove to be an even bigger existential threat, as Democrats have been flirting for several years with a new, more expansive approach to antitrust policy. They now have their test case.
If it succeeds, the case will be the biggest deal in antitrust since the breakup of AT&T. Even if it fails, it will be one hell of a show. I oversaw the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the Microsoft antitrust case in the 1990s and can vouch for the fireworks that result when so much money and corporate power is at stake. A lot of lawyers and lobbyists will earn their retirements from this one.
More news below. And check out our coverage of the other big event of the day—the IPO of profitless DoorDash, which jumped 85% after it started trading to a reported valuation of around $72 billion. (The price jump, of course, was portrayed by investment bankers as a good thing, rather than a pricing failure.) Tomorrow, Airbnb, priced at $68 for a valuation of $47 billion, is no doubt hoping for a similar bump. Who knew so much money could be made in the midst of a global pandemic.