An internal memo provided to Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg in 2018 undermines a key element of the Facebook parent’s defense against a looming antitrust crackdown, according to a report Tuesday.

Information included in the so-called “Cunningham Memo,” penned by ex-Facebook senior data scientist Thomas Cunningham, suggested the social media giant was most concerned about competition among its own platforms, the report said.

The Cunningham Memo warned of the risk that Meta-owned Instagram and WhatsApp could cut into Facebook’s user base — saying at one point that “it remains unclear whether Instagram and Facebook can coexist” in countries where both were popular, according to Bloomberg.

Meta has argued its business model is fair because of intense outside competition from rivals such as TikTok and Snapchat. But the internal memo describes a “ratchet effect” among social media apps and argues just one messaging and one sharing app can achieve a dominant share of the user base in a given market.

While snippets from the Cunningham Memo have surfaced in articles and congressional reports for years, the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee published the entire memo for the first time in a report on competition in the digital marketplace, Bloomberg reported.

Mark Zuckerberg
Meta officials said the memo contains information that had already surfaced.
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Subcommittee members purportedly made use of the memo while crafting antitrust legislation aimed at reining in Meta and other Big Tech firms — including a proposed bill that would prevent the largest companies from favoring their products over rival apps.

The bipartisan bill, dubbed the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, has drawn support from the Biden Justice Department and could receive a full vote in Congress by as early as next week, according to Bloomberg. Tech giants such as Meta, Google and Apple have opposed the legislation, arguing it could have unintended consequences.

When reached for comment, a Meta spokesperson said the information revealed in the documents is “not new” and was provided to lawmakers by the company voluntarily.

Congress is set to hold full votes on key antitrust legislation.
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“We provided them to the House Judiciary Committee when it was fact finding, and the Committee cited or quoted many of them in its 2020 report or released them in full prior to finalizing its report,” the Meta spokesperson said.

“The full record confirms what we have said from the beginning of these proceedings — that we operate in a highly competitive space, and our acquisitions have been good for competition, good for advertisers, and good for people,” the spokesperson added.

A former Federal Trade Commission official told Bloomberg the memo works against Meta’s defense that it faces robust competition because Facebook acted to have apps under its purview work in concert to maintain leading market position.

Mark Zuckerberg
Federal antitrust regulators have called for Facebook to be broken up.
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The memo details strategies through which Facebook could ensure WhatsApp and Instagram didn’t erode Facebook’s user base. Cunningham also noted that social media apps can only co-exist if they target different groups of users, such as LinkedIn’s focus on co-worker connections rather than friend requests.

“Once users start using a social app, their use declines slowly,” Cunningham wrote in the document.

The Post has reached out to Meta for comment on the memo.

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