Facebook’s co-founder bluntly called for the social media giant to be broken up by the government on Thursday, publishing a lengthy New York Times op-ed focusing on the “staggering” influence of his former business partner, Mark Zuckerberg.
“Mark is a good, kind person,” Chris Hughes (above, right, in 2004), wrote. “But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them.”
Hughes left Facebook more than a decade ago after building up the company with Zuckerberg and others as students at Harvard. He went on to a brief, bumpy tenure at the helm of The New Republic that gained him his own tech-skeptic critics.
In the Times Thursday, Hughes invoked the Sherman Antitrust Act and called for the federal government to rediscover “energetic antitrust enforcement.”
As a result of “a small but dedicated group of economists, lawyers and policymakers,” who funded “free”-market projects steadily for 40 years, Hughes wrote, such trust-busting has been “relegate[d] to the history books.”
The government, Hughes argued, “tacitly — and at times explicitly — approved” Facebook’s strategy to not only stand out in the marketplace, but to erase its competition altogether. The Federal Trade Commission in particular, he said, has dealt Facebook slaps on the wrist for violating the rules. It also approved its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, which Hughes said was the agency’s “biggest mistake.”
“I don’t blame Mark for his quest for domination,” Hughes wrote. “He has demonstrated nothing more nefarious than the virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur. Yet he has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice. It’s on our government to ensure that we never lose the magic of the invisible hand.”
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.
Facebook came under intense public scrutiny after Russian intelligence operatives used the platform to spread pro-Trump propaganda during the 2016 campaign. The social media behemoth has also been criticized for only belatedly cracking down on white nationalist users and other extremists who were active on the site, and had to admit last year that posts on its site were used to incite genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar.