Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook has faced increasing scrutiny from both the government and the public over its privacy violations and more. Most of the time, people associate Facebook with its current CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but he wasn’t alone in creating it.
Now, in an op-ed published in the New York Times, Chris Hughes — one of Facebook’s co-founders — is calling for the company to be broken up.
“FB has become too big and too powerful, and it’s part of a trend in our economy of an increasing concentration of corporate power,” Hughes tweeted. “We can fix this: break the company up and regulate it.”
Within the op-ed, Hughes notes that Zuckerberg’s influence is “staggering” and “far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government.”
In his piece, Hughes focuses on Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, noting that Zuckerberg controls three core communication platforms used by billions of people every day.
To Hughes, Facebook has turned into a monopoly, where it limits competition and holds back innovation. However, Hughes rests some of the blame with the government, which hasn’t done enough to hold Zuckerberg accountable.
“For too long, lawmakers have marveled at Facebook’s explosive growth and overlooked their responsibility to ensure that Americans are protected and markets are competitive,” Hughes wrote.
He went on to add:
“After Mark’s congressional testimony last year, there should have been calls for him to truly reckon with his mistakes. Instead the legislators who questioned him were derided as too old and out of touch to understand how tech works. That’s the impression Mark wanted Americans to have, because it means little will change. 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. It’s time to break up Facebook.”
I’m calling for breaking up @Facebook in an essay in the @nytimes. FB has become too big and too powerful, and it’s part of a trend in our economy of an increasing concentration of corporate power. We can fix this: break the company up and regulate it. https://t.co/34rITPfvJ9
— Chris Hughes (@chrishughes) May 9, 2019
Currently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is preparing to impose a $3-$5 billion fine on Facebook. That’s something Hughes says isn’t enough and it’s a sentiment echoed by some members of the Senate.
On Monday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent a letter to the FTC calling the expected settlement a “bargain.” They aren’t far off. Although Facebook’s fine may be a record-breaking one, the company set aside $3 billion in anticipation within its first quarter alone.
Along with Facebook’s competition issues, Hughes centers in on the lack of oversight. Since Zuckerberg controls about 60 percent of voting shares, Hughes says Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee.
“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,” Hughes wrote. “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.”
All of that power is concerning itself. However, there’s also no government agency that’s dedicated to keeping big tech companies like Facebook in check. Excessive power combined with a complete lack of oversight — internal or external — is a dangerous combination.
“Just breaking up Facebook is not enough. We need a new agency, empowered by Congress to regulate tech companies. Its first mandate should be to protect privacy,” Hughes added, citing the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation as inspiration.
Frustration has been growing around big tech companies like Facebook for quite some time. Hughes’ op-ed is a necessary read for anyone wanting an insider’s perspective.