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Facebook lobbying spending on pace for record year as government scrutiny grows

Facebook Inc. is on pace to spend record amounts of money on lobbying in 2020, public data shows, at a time when lawmakers and antitrust enforcers continue to ramp up scrutiny of the company.

A July 20 public filing from the company shows that it spent $4.8 million for the second quarter, a 17.5% increase from what the company spent in the second quarter of 2019, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org website. Data from the center also shows that the company spent $5.3 million in the first quarter, which brings its 2020 lobbying total to $10.1 million.

Data from the center shows that the company has increased lobbying spending in recent years, topping out at $16.7 million in 2019. The company is on pace to top $20 million for 2020.

The uptick in spending comes at a time when the company is the subject of multiple investigations across the federal government.

For instance, Facebook disclosed in 2019 that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission was investigating the company for antitrust concerns.

Multiple media reports in 2019 also said that the U.S. Department of Justice intended to open a similar investigation into the company. While it did not name specific companies, the DOJ did announce an investigation in July 2019 into "whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers."

Avery Gardiner, general counsel and senior fellow for competition, data and power at the Center for Democracy & Technology, recently told S&P Global Market Intelligence that she would not be surprised if the federal government filed a lawsuit against Facebook before the election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify alongside the lead executives from Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC, Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. at a U.S. House hearing as part of an investigation into online platforms and market power later this summer.

The legislative and executive branches are also examining the content moderation practices of online platforms. In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to petition the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to review and clarify certain legal protections provided under law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet platforms from civil and criminal liability for content created and posted by users.

While communications law experts said the order is likely to face implementation hurdles and legal scrutiny, a bipartisan pair of senators introduced a bill on June 24 that also aims to reform elements of the law.

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