Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes says it's time to break it up

Erika Holt
May 10, 2019

The issue isn't just that Facebook got too big and the US needs figure out new and novel ways to fight its power.

But never has the complaint come so forcefully from someone so instrumental to the company's very creation: In a lengthy op-ed in the New York Times, co-founder Chris Hughes-yes, Mark Zuckerberg's old dormmate at Harvard-makes the case. Well, that's obvious from the title of the essay: "It's Time to Break Up Facebook".

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of MA, for one, released a plan in March that would impose new rules on tech companies with $25 billion or more in annual ad revenue, forcing Amazon and Google to dramatically reduce their hold on online commerce. Recent controversies have focused on their vulnerability to manipulation and spreading "fake news", as well as their use as forums for hate speech and fomenting violence.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has pledged to break up Facebook and other giant tech companies like Amazon and Google if she wins the presidency in 2020. He is reported to have made around $430m from his stake in Facebook.

"The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook's monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people", Mr Hughes said, urging the government to break away Instagram and WhatsApp and prevent new acquisitions for several years.

"Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability", Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg said in response to the piece. Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet. "Indeed, he is meeting government leaders this week to further that work".

Hughes also called on the USA government to break up Facebook's business model to democratise its monopolistic power.

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Hughes said he last met with Zuckerberg in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. So despite an extended economic expansion, increasing interest in high-tech start-ups, an explosion of venture capital and growing public distaste for Facebook, no major social networking company has been founded since the fall of 2011. "But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility", said Hughes, who left Facebook to work as an online strategist for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. He and other early Facebook founders didn't foresee how the News Feed algorithm "could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders", he wrote.

According to the entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg's personal power in the company is "staggering", with the board of directors working "more like an advisory committee than an overseer" due to Zuckerberg's control of an estimated 60 per cent voting shares.

"There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people", he says.

Part of the problem is that there aren't any real alternatives to Facebook. He calls for bigger regulatory moves-including breaking up the company.

Hughes is not alone in asking for breakup of Facebook. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said Facebook should be broken up and the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp should be undone.

Hughes regrets not sounding the alarm on Facebook sooner but is hopeful that a new era of accountability for Facebook is beginning.

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