Chris Hughes, the Harvard roommate of and co-founder of Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, writes in a piece for the New York Times that “it is time to break up Facebook.”
“America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible,” writes Hughes. “That’s why the founders created a system of checks and balances.” Hughes explains that because Zuckerberg has a 60 percent control of Facebook’s voting shares, “Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.”
“Mark is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks,” says Hughes. “I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them.”
Hughes sees Zuckerberg’s “unilateral control over speech” as “the most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power.”
“There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people,” he says. For this, Hughes is calling on the government to hold Zuckerberg accountable and believes current actions against Facebook, such as a $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission aren’t enough to rein in Zuckerberg in. “We are a nation with a tradition of reining in monopolies, no matter how well intentioned the leaders of these companies may be. Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American.”
Facebook’s dominance is not an accident of history. The company’s strategy was to beat every competitor in plain view, and regulators and the government tacitly — and at times explicitly — approved. In one of the government’s few attempts to rein in the company, the F.T.C. in 2011 issued a consent decree that Facebook not share any private information beyond what users already agreed to. Facebook largely ignored the decree. Last month, the day after the company predicted in an earnings call that it would need to pay up to $5 billion as a penalty for its negligence — a slap on the wrist — Facebook’s shares surged 7 percent, adding $30 billion to its value, six times the size of the fine.
“The American government needs to do two things,” according to Hughes. “Break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.” He proposes Facebook be split into separate companies — undoing the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp and banning any more acquisitions. Hughes also believes that breaking up Facebook isn’t enough to solve the problem long term. “We need a new agency, empowered by Congress to regulate tech companies. Its first mandate should be to protect privacy.”
Hughes regrets not sounding the alarm on Facebook sooner but is hopeful that a new era of accountability for Facebook is beginning.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in July 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis