Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes Urges Firm Breakup

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has labelled Mark Zuckerberg’s power as “un-American” and called for the firm he helped create to be broken up.

Hughes’ call to breakup Facebook came in an article for the New York Times, in which he said that Facebook was now a threat to democracy and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg welded too much power.

The call comes after Facebook faces regulatory pressure around the world. The firm has rejected Hughes’ call, and pointed out that Zuckerberg has previously called for “a common regulatory framework” to hold companies accountable.

Breakup Facebook

The UK’s Information Commissioner has challenged this call for regulation and said that Facebook should reconsider its appeal of last year’s £500,000 fine over the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal.

Into this mix has waded co-founder Chris Hughes, who was a roomate of Zuckerberg at university. Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin and Chris Hughes all founded Facebook back in their Harvard University days.

“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” wrote Hughes in thew New York Times. “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.”

Facebook of course acquired Instagram for $1 billion (£760m) in 2012. It then went to acquire WhatsApp in 2014 for a staggering $22bn, despite the fact that WhatsApp at the time had a tiny revenue stream.

“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,” wrote Hughes. “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.”

Hughes went to say that Zuckerberg is “a good, kind person. 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 called on the government to hold Mark accountable.

“Any day now, the Federal Trade Commission is expected to impose a $5 billion fine on the company, but that is not enough; nor is Facebook’s offer to appoint some kind of privacy czar,” he said.

“We are a nation with a tradition of reining in monopolies, no matter how well intentioned the leaders of these companies may be,” Hughes wrote. “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American. It is time to break up Facebook.”

Facebook rejection

But the social networking giant quickly dismissed the call for WhatsApp and Instagram to be made into separate companies.

“Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the break up of a successful American company,” Facebook spokesman and former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said in a statement, posted on Twitter by a Politico reporter.

“Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet. That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for,” Clegg wrote. “Indeed, he is meeting world leaders this week to further that work.”

Going forward Zuckerberg has previously pledged to create a “privacy focused” future for Facebook.

He has also pledged to give away 99 percent of his Facebook shares.

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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