The state suit was signed by attorneys general from 46 states and the District of Columbia and Guam. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and South Dakota did not join the case.
Facebook asked the court to dismiss both suits in March. The company argued that it was continually challenged with competition, including from new rivals such as TikTok. It also argued that the regulators had failed to prove how the services, which are free, harmed consumers. The judge’s dismissal of both suits, so early in process, stunned regulators and Facebook executives.
The judge, James E. Boasberg of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, wondered why the states had waited so long to try to unwind Facebook’s deals for Instagram and WhatsApp. Regulators had not tried to block them when they happened. He also rejected allegations that Facebook squashed rival apps by blocking their ability to easily interact with the social media platform.
“Ultimately, this antitrust action is premised on public, high-profile conduct, nearly all of which occurred over six years ago,” he wrote, “before the launch of the Apple Watch or Alexa or Periscope, when Kevin Durant still played for the Oklahoma City Thunder and when Ebola was the virus dominating headlines.”
Judge Boasberg, who was appointed to his current post by President Barack Obama, said the F.T.C. did not sufficiently prove that Facebook was a monopoly. He said the agency’s definition for social media was too vague, and in a reference to an interpretation of antitrust law prevalent in courts that is anchored in consumer prices, he noted that the product was free.
“It is almost as if the agency expects the court to simply nod to the conventional wisdom that Facebook is a monopolist,” he wrote. “After all, no one who hears the title of the 2010 film ‘The Social Network’ wonders which company it is about.”
But, he said, “‘monopoly power’ is a term of art under federal law with a precise economic meaning.”