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Breaking: In Midst of Controversial Election, DOJ Drops the Hammer

Federal and state authorities are preparing to file new lawsuits in the coming weeks against Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, according to a new Wall Street Journal report.

People familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal that authorities are preparing as many as four cases targeting the big tech companies by the end of January in the wake of the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google in October.

Federal and state officials are investigating if Google abused its power to dominate search and advertising and if Facebook abused its power to dominate social media.

Both companies have denied the allegations and say they operate in highly competitive markets and that their mostly free services benefit the users they serve.

“If Facebook were to be sued, it would mark the first government antitrust action against the social-media titan in the U.S.,” the Journal reported.

Facebook has recently been criticized by Congressional Republicans and Democrats over its content-moderation policies.

Democrats have said that Facebook has not done enough to curb misinformation and harmful content.

During a hearing on Nov. 17, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut pointed to Steve Bannon’s Facebook account, which had not been taken down after Bannon suggested beheading Dr. Anthony Fauci, according to The New York Times.

Republicans have long maintained that Facebook has suppressed conservatives online.

“While we strive to do as well as possible and be as precise as possible, we will make mistakes,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in response to a list of actions Facebook has taken against conservative content, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Apple Inc. and Amazon Inc. were questioned with Google and Facebook in July and are also being investigated by antitrust officials.

Former Federal Trade Commission Chairman William Kovacic said antitrust authorities are gaining confidence that they can combat political pressure from the companies, as the likelihood of additional lawsuits reveals bipartisan concerns about the power Big Tech companies have.

“The supportive chorus of elected officials is giving assurance to DOJ and the FTC that they have the political support they need to blunt [the companies’] efforts … to pressure the agencies to back off or water down their cases,” Kovacic said.

The former FTC chairman pointed to pressure it faced from lawmakers when the organization opened an antitrust investigation of Google in 2010. Lawmakers also helped Microsoft avoid a DOJ investigation over two decades ago, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The FTC is nearing approval of its own antitrust lawsuit against Facebook on whether the company suppressed its competition through certain purchases, including buying Instagram and WhatsApp.

A coalition of attorneys generals led by Colorado are also preparing to file an antitrust case against Google. The case would be similar one brought by the Justice Department but would focus on “addressing concerns of specialized search-engine platforms such as Yelp Inc. that complain of being unfairly marginalized by Google.”

“This is a historic time for both federal and state antitrust authorities, as we work to protect competition and innovation in our technology markets,” a group of attorneys general said in a statement.

“We plan to conclude parts of our investigation of Google in the coming weeks. If we decide to file a complaint, we would file a motion to consolidate our case with the DOJ’s.”

The Justice Department could also expand its own antitrust case against Google over online advertising.

Google and Facebook did not respond to The Wall Street Journal’s request for comment in any of these cases.

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