“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.”
The Federal Trade Commission made a huge mistake allowing Facebook to buy Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, Hughes wrote. About 70 percent of Americans use social media and these acquisitions made it so the vast majority are engaging with Facebook products, he noted.
Hughes, who left Facebook in 2007 to volunteer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, said the company’s co-founders never imagined what kind of impact their trademark News Feed algorithm could have on the world, including influencing elections and empowering nationalist leaders.
“Mark is a good, kind person,” Hughes wrote. “But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.”
“I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them,” he added, noting that Zuckerberg controls 60 percent of voting shares at Facebook. “Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer.”
An era of accountability for Facebook and other monopolies may be beginning.Chris Hughes
At this time, regulators can do little to shield emerging companies from Facebook’s aggressive tactics. Facebook’s strategy of either copying a new venture’s innovations (see: Snapchat’s Stories feature), kneecapping a budding company’s growth or acquiring it has scared away investors, Hughes said.
Because of this, Hughes theorized, no major social networking companies have been founded since 2011.
In his op-ed, Hughes laid out specific steps the government should take to weaken Facebook’s far-reaching grasp on the technology communications industry, including breaking up the tech empire into multiple companies.
Hughes called on the government to enforce existing antitrust laws by undoing Facebook’s Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years.
Beyond breaking up the company, Hughes wrote, the government must create a new agency to regulate tech companies with the focus of protecting privacy.
Facebook in recent years has come under fire over its collection of users’ data and its failure to protect their private information. The company predicted last month that it would face a $5 billion fine from the FTC for failing to adhere to a 2011 consent decree, which prohibited Facebook from sharing any private information beyond what users already agreed to.
The FTC had been investigating the Cambridge Analytica scandal since last March after news broke that the data-mining firm accessed the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users without their consent.
“Because Facebook so dominates social networking, it faces no market-based accountability,” Hughes wrote. “This means that every time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern: first outrage, then disappointment and, finally, resignation.”
Hughes also urged Congress to pass a landmark privacy bill to “specify exactly what control Americans have over their digital information, require clearer disclosure to users and provide enough flexibility to the agency to exercise effective oversight over time.”
The new tech oversight agency proposed by Hughes should create guidelines for acceptable speech on social media, he said. Zuckerberg has been accused of allowing misinformation and bigoted rhetoric to spread freely on his platform until only recently.
“This idea may seem un-American — we would never stand for a government agency censoring speech,” Hughes wrote. “But there is no constitutional right to harass others or live-stream violence.”
In a portion of an interview with NBC’s Kate Snow that aired Thursday morning, Hughes called Zuckerberg “extremely powerful” and described the company he helped bring to life as “dangerous.” More of the conversation is set to air later Thursday on “NBC Nightly News.”
“I take responsibility for not sounding the alarm earlier,” Hughes wrote in his op-ed. “An era of accountability for Facebook and other monopolies may be beginning.”
It isn’t the first time Warren has made such a statement. She announced a proposal in March as part of her 2020 presidential campaign to break up companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google to make it easier for entrepreneurs to compete in the tech sector.
“Today’s big tech companies have too much power ― too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” she wrote in a post published on Medium at the time. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.”