The U.S. government and 48 states and districts sued Facebook Wednesday, accusing it of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors and seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of the social network’s Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services.

The landmark antitrust lawsuits, announced by the Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General Letitia James, mark the second major government offensive this year against seemingly untouchable tech behemoths. The Justice Department sued Google in October for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to buttress competition since its historic case against Microsoft two decades ago. Amazon and Apple also have been under investigation in Congress and by federal authorities for alleged anticompetitive conduct.

James noted at a press conference that “it’s really critically important that we block this predatory acquisition of companies and that we restore confidence to the market.”

The FTC said Facebook has engaged in a “systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing smaller up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. James echoed that in her press conference, saying Facebook “used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.”

The FTC fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 for privacy violations and instituted new oversight and restrictions on its business. The fine was the largest the agency has ever levied on a tech company, although it had no visible impact on Facebook’s business.

The New York attorney general, Letitia James. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

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