FTC chair Lina Khan leads a delegation of Justice Department and regulatory agency people in talks with their Chinese counterparts about antitrust issues of mutual concern. Federal Trade Commission photo.
FTC urged to take a close look as Musk’s Twitter bans links to competitors
by Jake Johnson – Common Dreams
Update: Late Sunday, Twitter deleted the newly announced policy from its website and posted a poll asking users whether they would support the policy change.
Background to that: “”Not sure he can get away with this in the US under the current FTC,” noted one journalist, “but I suspect this is wildly illegal in the EU.”
Elon Musk’s Twitter announced Sunday that users are no longer allowed to post links to some of the social media platform’s competitors, including Facebook, Mastodon, Instagram, and Post, a move likely to draw the notice of the US Federal Trade Commission and European Union officials.
In a post explaining the new policy, Twitter said it will “remove any free promotion of prohibited 3rd-party social media platforms, such as linking out (i.e. using URLs) to any of the [banned] platforms on Twitter.”
“Accounts that are used for the main purpose of promoting content on another social platform may be suspended,” Twitter said. “Additionally, any attempts to bypass restrictions on external links to the above prohibited social media platforms through technical or non-technical means (e.g. URL cloaking, plaintext obfuscation) is in violation of this policy.”
One exception to the ban, the company noted, is “paid advertisement/promotion for any of the prohibited social media platforms.”
Critics said the move amounts to blatant anticompetitive behavior and urged the FTC—led by “antitrust trailblazer” Lina Khan—to closely examine the new policy, which Twitter rolled out as Musk continues to make a mockery of his pledge to support free expression on the platform, including by suspending and permanently banning journalists who are reporting on his management of the company he purchased for $44 billion.
“There’s a lot of competition but this is probably Musk’s worst policy move so far,” said Evan Greer, director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. “Unquestionably censorious and anti-speech, huge, immediate problem for large numbers of users, flies in the face of Internet openness and everything social media ideally should be. Just appalling.”
Brendan Keefe, an investigative journalist, tweeted that he has reported the policy to the FTC as “a possible antitrust violation.”
“I have also filed a formal notification to firstname.lastname@example.org,” Keefe added. “It is standard practice for journalists to share their social media handles on all platforms. Now that will get you booted from Twitter.”
Twitter had already banned links to Mastodon, a platform that some have flocked to as an alternative to the Musk-run website.
Bill Baer, a former top antitrust official at the Justice Department and the FTC, said Friday that he “could see all sorts of problems” with the Mastodon ban “both from a competition and a consumer protection standpoint.” The FTC stresses on its website that it is illegal for a company with market power to “maintain or acquire a dominant position by excluding competitors or preventing new entry.”
Twitter has been on the FTC’s radar following Musk’s takeover and subsequent mass layoffs and firings. As Bloomberg reported Thursday, the agency has sent letters to Twitter expressing concern that the company “doesn’t have the security or legal resources to meet the requirements of its agreement with the FTC regarding user privacy and data security.”
Twitter’s new policy could also face scrutiny from EU officials, who have already voiced alarm over some of Musk’s moves as head of the platform used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
“Not sure he can get away with this in the US under the current FTC, but I suspect this is wildly illegal in the EU,” tweeted The Intercept’s Ryan Grim.
Under the EU’s Digital Markets Act, platforms are not allowed to “prevent consumers from linking up to businesses outside their platforms.”
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