As the FTC and States Sue Facebook, Revisit ‘The Facebook Dilemma’

For more context on the social media giant in the wake of the FTC's latest lawsuit, watch FRONTLINE's 2018 documentary 'The Facebook Dilemma.'

For more context on the social media giant in the wake of the FTC's latest lawsuit, watch FRONTLINE's 2018 documentary 'The Facebook Dilemma.'

December 9, 2020

On Wed., Dec. 9, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it is suing the social networking giant Facebook, alleging multiple years of anticompetitive behavior that amounts to “illegal monopolization.”

In the 2018 documentary The Facebook Dilemma, FRONTLINE traced an earlier FTC investigation into Facebook’s practices. The new lawsuit goes further.

“The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that could, among other things: require divestitures of assets, including Instagram and WhatsApp; prohibit Facebook from imposing anticompetitive conditions on software developers; and require Facebook to seek prior notice and approval for future mergers and acquisitions,” the announcement read.

Forty-eight attorneys general participated in the investigation that preceded the FTC’s announcement. On the same day, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she and the coalition of attorneys general were suing Facebook over alleged anticompetitive conduct that prioritized profits over user privacy.

“We’re reviewing the complaints & will have more to say soon,” Facebook posted in response on Twitter. “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.”

In The Facebook Dilemma, FRONTLINE tracked Facebook’s meteoric growth and the consequences in the U.S. and across the world. The documentary also covered an earlier FTC investigation, begun in 2010, into whether Facebook had been deceiving its users about how their data was being shared. As the documentary recounts, Facebook settled with the FTC without admitting guilt and agreed, under a 2012 consent order, to fix problems the FTC had identified. Facebook representatives have said the company took the order seriously.

Last year, however, the FTC announced it was fining Facebook $5 billion for privacy violations and instituting new oversight programs and business restrictions on the company for privacy violations — indicating the company had continued to mislead users. 

Watch The Facebook Dilemma, in two parts, below:

As part of FRONTLINE’s ongoing Transparency Project, you can also explore an interactive version of the film and 29 extended interviews from the making of the documentary.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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