Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes joined the growing group of tech experts, privacy advocates, and politicians publicly raising alarm about the "staggering" power of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg—and, in a lengthy New York Times op-ed published Thursday, called on the government to break up the social media behemoth.
"Mark's power is unprecedented and un-American. It is time to break up Facebook."
—Chris Hughes, Facebook co-founder
Hughes, who left Facebook over a decade ago, is now a co-chairman of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at the Roosevelt Institute.
In the Times, Hughes described Zuckerberg as "a good, kind person" while also detailing how his former college roommate's influence goes "far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government" and why that's a problem.
He controls three core communications platforms—Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—that billions of people use every day. 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.
Zuckerberg doesn't just dominate Facebook—he also wields nearly unparalleled influence across the media and digital landscapes more broadly. In Hughes's mind, the "biggest mistake" of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was allowing Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp in recent years. The FTC is expected to soon fine Facebook up to $5 billion for privacy violations—which Hughes, like others, framed as "a slap on the wrist" for a company that earned $55 billion in revenue last year.
"When it hasn't acquired its way to dominance, Facebook has used its monopoly position to shut out competing companies or has copied their technology," Hughes explained, outlining how the company has interacted with competitors such as YouTube or Snapchat.
"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 is time to break up Facebook," wrote Hughes. "Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can."
Specifically, Hughes urged the FTC, Justice Department, and Congress to check Zuckerberg's power by forcing Facebook to splinter into several companies, blocking future acquisitions, and creating new federal agency that will regulate tech companies to make them "more accountable to the American people" through privacy protections and speech guidelines.
In addition to the op-ed, the Times also put out a video version of Hughes's argument, titled: "I Co-Founded Facebook. It's Time to Break It Up." Watch:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—as Hughes acknowledged—put forth a plan in March, as part of her 2020 presidential campaign, to break up Facebook and other tech giants like Amazon and Google. Responding to the op-ed on Thursday, Warren tweeted: "Chris Hughes is right. Today's big tech companies have too much power—over our economy, our society, & our democracy."
I have a plan to make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — and it starts with breaking up Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Learn more: https://t.co/2rWT0wJ8vD
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 9, 2019
The calls from Hughes, Warren, and others for the U.S. government to break up Facebook come amid other calls for changes at the company—from pressuring federal lawmakers "to attack the culture of lawlessness in the company and eliminate the motivation to collect data," to ousting Zuckerberg.
Evan Greer of Fight for the Future made the latter demand in an op-ed for The Guardian Wednesday, listing 25 examples of his "failed leadership." Greer wrote that while "hefty fines, civil rights audits, antitrust, data privacy legislation, shareholder activism, and employee organizing can all play a role" in fixing the problems that plague Facebook—and the tech industry more broadly—as she sees it, "Mark Zuckerberg must go."
Greer's op-ed came just two days after the groups Color of Change and Majority Action issued an advisory to Facebook shareholders encouraging them withhold their support for the nomination of Zuckerberg to the company's board of directors at the annual shareholder meeting scheduled for May 30.
"However, Zuckerberg has structured the company so that he has more voting power than all other shareholders combined," noted Greer. "It's clear we need more than shareholders to make this happen."
"We need an internet-wide vote of no confidence," she added. "Zuckerberg's resignation would send a message to tech workers, government regulators, advocates, and all who hold Silicon Valley accountable that leadership at these companies is a privilege, not a right."
In a Twitter thread on Wednesday, Fight for the Future summarized Facebook's recent bad behavior and shared a petition that demands Zuckerberg's resignation.
THIS IS JUST IN THE LAST SEVEN MONTHS
These calls are escalating. Facebook can no longer ignore the need for fresh leadership to substantively address its massive problems w/privacy.
The same people who got us into this will not get us out.
Join us: https://t.co/qemAaIs43a
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) May 8, 2019