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States appeal decision to dismiss Facebook antitrust case

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WASHINGTON — Nearly four dozen states on Friday asked a federal appeals court to reconsider an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook that a judge dismissed last year.

In June, Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the states waited too long after some of the agreements reviewed were reached to file their suit.

The plaintiffs, which are led by Attorney General Letitia James of New York and include the District of Columbia and Guam, argued in their appeal that states have more leeway than private plaintiffs to file lawsuits. They also argued that it was in the public interest for attorneys general to pursue antitrust complaints against Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

The states’ central claim is that Facebook acquired competitors – particularly Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 – in a predatory fashion, in order to crush the competition. They also argue that Facebook harmed rivals like Vine by blocking them from accessing data and tools on its platform. This hurt consumers, who were deprived of more competition and alternative services in social networks, states say.

“Time and again, the social media giant has used its market dominance to force small businesses out of business and reduce competition for millions of users,” Ms James said. “We are filing this appeal with the support of nearly every state in the country, because we will always fight efforts to stifle competition, reduce innovation and reduce privacy, even when faced with a goliath like Facebook.”

Meta spokesman Chris Sgro said, “We believe the District Court’s decision to dismiss the States’ complaint was correct and there are no grounds to overturn that decision.”

Judicial pressure has intensified against Meta in recent days. The states appeal comes days after Mr. Boasberg cleared the Federal Trade Commission for a revised version of a similar antitrust lawsuit. The FTC argued that the company used a “buy or bury” strategy in its Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions to create a social media monopoly.

Mr. Boasberg was initially skeptical of the two lawsuits, but for different reasons. He said federal regulators hadn’t provided enough evidence to support some of his basic claims, such as Facebook’s monopoly. This week, he said those regulators had passed that bar in a revised lawsuit.