Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes issued a scathing rebuke of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, calling on the government to break up the social media giant.
In a New York Times op-ed on Thursday (May 9), Hughes said it is time for the government to hold Facebook CEO Zuckerberg accountable, arguing that an impending $5 billion fine by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) isn’t enough punishment for the company. Nor is the idea of appointing a privacy executive to oversee how it handles data. According to media reports, as part of the FTC settlement, Facebook would be required to hire executives to implement privacy policies and create an independent board to asses if it is practicing those policies.
“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” wrote Hughes, who co-founded Facebook with Zuckerberg at Harvard 15 years ago but has not worked at the social media firm for a decade. “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. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.”
Hughes did say Zuckerberg had good intentions but said he has too much power given his majority voting stake in the company. Hughes went on to criticize lawmakers, contending they spend too much time marveling at the growth of Facebook and overlooking their job to ensure consumers are protected and that the markets remain competitive. He said the congressional testimony by Zuckerberg last year should have prompted calls for him to be held personally responsible for data and privacy breaches as well as the spread of fake news on the platform.
As for breaking up Facebook, Hughes said the biggest mistake the FTC made was to let Facebook buy Instagram and WhatsApp. At the time they were competent rivals to Facebook because they were built for the smartphone, an area in which Facebook was still struggling. To compete, Facebook decided to buy them. “Neither Instagram nor WhatsApp had any meaningful revenue, but both were incredibly popular. The Instagram acquisition guaranteed Facebook would preserve its dominance in photo networking, and WhatsApp gave it a new entry into mobile real-time messaging. Now, the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp have left the company after clashing with Mark over his management of their platforms. But their former properties remain Facebook’s, driving much of its recent growth,” Hughes wrote.
Hughes chose to write the op-ed now because Facebook is gearing up to merge the technology that powers Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Once that is complete it will be harder for the government to break up the company.
“I don’t think these proposals were made in bad faith,” Hughes said. “But I do think they’re an attempt to head off the argument that regulators need to go further and break up the company. Facebook isn’t afraid of a few more rules. It’s afraid of an antitrust case and of the kind of accountability that real government oversight would bring.”