Another week, another news story involving Facebook and an antitrust lawsuit. The government has tried and failed to limit the company numerous times now. It seems the real-life equivalent of Ash from Alien, aka Mark Zuckerberg, can continue to do as he pleases.
Facebook had not one, but two antitrust cases against it recently. One from the Federal Trade Commission and one from a number of US states. Both cases claimed Facebook has a monopolistic-grip on the social-media industry. This is largely related to its purchase of not one, but two competitors in Instagram and WhatsApp.
Regulators have also accused Facebook of anti-competitive conduct, adopting a buy or bury mentality which involved buying rivals or cutting off services to those who threatened the company.
Facebook isn’t alone though. Google, Disney, Amazon, Apple and every major tech or media conglomerate you can think of has been involved in some form of antitrust investigation. Problem is, each business does just enough to escape any kind of proper punishment. When the businesses are fined, each one is so wealthy that it barely registers as a blip.
Big Tech is Shima
The best visual metaphor for many of the large media and tech conglomerates is Shima in the classic manga film Akira. In a quest for power, the character unintentionally turns into a huge, grotesque mass that envelopes everything it comes across. Disney, Facebook, Google and Amazon are the Shimas of the business world. Trampling the competition by aggressive takeover tactics, or by stifling access to certain platforms.
Governments and state-run agencies can attempt to limit the reach of these companies, but it already feels like many of them are running monopolies. That’s because many of them essentially are, but it instead falls under a legal term known as ‘near-monopolies’. A near-monopoly is legally defined as a “company that has moved into a space and has taken over a significant portion of the market share.” Sounds familiar right?
Antitrust lawsuits are typically used to limit businesses operating in a manner that can be deemed overly aggressive or monopolistic. The problem is, these huge corporations already do that, and have done for several years.
Out in the open
Let’s go through each business, shall we? Amazon is in a near-monopoly across several industries. Amazon controls over 75% of all online sales of physical books, 65% of ebook sales and 40% of self-publishing authors (Source). Amazon’s presence in the literary world is one of sheer dominance, forcing most, if not all publishers to operate based on its terms. This is just one field Amazon dominates in though. The sheer versatility and market share of its platform ensures it can operate in numerous industries.
Google’s dominance over the online search space is such that Google is now a catchall term used for any kind of web search. Like every other company listed here, the Department Of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google last year. The DOJ claimed Google harms the competition in internet search and search advertising through its distribution agreements. Google Pays millions to other companies to make its search engine the priority, and in doing so, limits the success of other businesses. Google’s trial is at least a couple of years away, but it could mark a major moment for antitrust cases. As a online journalist, the hold Google has on how the web and its content evolves has been inescapable for well over a decade.
Disney, everyone’s favourite media conglomerate, faced an antitrust case in 2019 after its horizontal merger with Twenty-First Century Fox. In the case, the US government settled with Disney. Allowing it to acquire most of Fox while selling off some of its assets. Disney is aggressive in its acquisitions, buying the likes of Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar in the last 15 years. At this rate, Disney could be the primary distributor of films and TV shows across numerous industries.
Facebook, Google, Amazon and Disney are all chasing near-monopolies. Even Activision-Blizzard is facing an antitrust lawsuit over its handling of the Overwatch League. These massive conglomerates are doing this right in front of our eyes. However, they often tow the line just enough to avoid true legal repercussions.
But, what can I do?
It’s a good question. The concept of trying to limit businesses reach and power can be pretty overwhelming. Facebook and Amazon have such a wide-spread reach that it’s pretty difficult not to interact with them daily. The answer becomes one of making sensible choices. If you can buy locally, do it. If there are independent creators you can buy from over Disney or Amazon, support them. The best way to avoid a Monopoly is by supporting and lifting other businesses and individuals in that industry.
Ultimately, it shouldn't be our responsibility as individuals to hold businesses accountable. It's on global governments to appropriately reign in businesses that are becoming far too dominant. Excessive monopilies are just one element of late-stage capitalism, a methodology that sits at the heart of futuristic Cyberpunk settings. Unfortunately, that futuristic setting is looking more and more like our own world. Cyberpunk 2077? More like Cyberpunk 2021...