Facebook urgently needs to be broken up and Mark Zuckerberg is much too powerful, according to one of its co-founders.
The company’s boss has an influence “far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government”, Chris Hughes has written in a scathing new editorial, in which he calls Mr. Zuckerberg’s power “unprecedented and un-American”.
While Mr. Zuckerberg remains a similarly human person to the one he was when the two met at the beginning of Facebook, “it’s his very humanity that makes his unchecked power so problematic”, Mr. Hughes wrote in the New York Times. “Mark is a good, kind person,” he wrote. “But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.”
The editorial goes on to attack the various ways that Mr. Zuckerberg has secured his power and found himself able to use that to fundamentally change the way the world works, with very little oversight. “He controls three core communications platforms — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — that billions of people use every day,” Mr. Hughes wrote. “Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of 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. 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.”
Mr. Hughes admits that he and other members of the early Facebook team should have done more to ensure that the site couldn’t be abused to “change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders”.
But he says that the only way to bring that power into check now might be for the government to intervene and break up Facebook. Recent attempts to constrain the power of the company do not go far enough, he wrote, and the only way to keep the domination of Facebook in check is to force it to stop having such a vast power over the internet.
“We are a nation with a tradition of reining in monopolies, no matter how well intentioned the leaders of these companies may be,” the article reads. “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American.”
Specifically, Mr. Hughes argues that the company should be separated into different companies. The US government could also revoke the 2012 acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp so that they will return to functioning independently, he writes.
“The cost of breaking up Facebook would be next to zero for the government, and lots of people stand to gain economically,” he said. “A ban on short-term acquisitions would ensure that competitors, and the investors who take a bet on them, would have the space to flourish. Digital advertisers would suddenly have multiple companies vying for their dollars.”
In calling for such an intervention, Mr. Hughes growing a number of voices in US politics who have argued that the only way to limit Facebook’s power is to break it up.