Facebook Co-Founder Calls for "Breakup" of Social Media Giant

Mark Zuckerberg  - April 10, 2018 - Getty - H 2019
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Chris Hughes in a New York Times op-ed said Mark Zuckerberg's "power is unprecedented and un-American."

Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, on Thursday called on U.S. tech regulators to break up the social media giant because it has become too big and powerful.

"Mark's power is unprecedented and un-American. It is time to break up Facebook," Hughes wrote in a New York Times op-ed. "We already have the tools we need to check the domination of Facebook. We just seem to have forgotten about them," he added.

Hughes, who last saw Zuckerberg in summer 2017, said his former business partner and Facebook have become too big to regulate and need to be held accountable. "Mark's influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. Mark is a good, kind person. But I'm angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks," he wrote.

Though he left Facebook a decade ago to join Barack Obama's ultimately successful presidential campaign, the co-founder insisted he "feels a sense of anger and responsibility" over how the social media giant he helped build had evolved.

Facebook has been dogged by concerns over privacy and its handling of user data over the last year. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the political data firm was able to access user information to create targeted advertisements during the 2016 election, led Congress to summon Zuckerberg for a two-day hearing over the company's privacy practices.

The FTC's investigation has focused on whether the company violated a 2011 agreement to improve its handling of user data.

Hughes urged the U.S. government to at long last hold Zuckerberg accountable. "For too long, lawmakers have marveled at Facebook's explosive growth and overlooked their responsibility to ensure that Americans are protected and markets are competitive. Any day now, the Federal Trade Commission is expected to impose a $5 billion fine on the company, but that is not enough, " he wrote.

Hughes argued Facebook does not fear more regulation of tech companies, having called for rules to referee the industry. It fears an antitrust case brought by the U.S. government.

Without breaking up Facebook, Hughes said the dominant social media player cannot be controlled or held accountable to regulators. "Because Facebook so dominates social networking, it faces no market-based accountability. This means that every time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern: first outrage, then disappointment and, finally, resignation," the op-ed stated.

On the business front, Hughes said Facebook was using Instagram and other assets to stifle competition like the video app Vine. "As a result of all this, would-be competitors can't raise the money to take on Facebook. Investors realize that if a company gets traction, Facebook will copy its innovations, shut it down or acquire it for a relatively modest sum," he wrote.

Hughes said Zuckerberg's apparently incessant need for market domination of the social-media space was hardly new. "From our earliest days, Mark used the word 'domination' to describe our ambitions, with no hint of irony or humility. Back then, we competed with a whole host of social networks, not just MySpace, but also Friendster, Twitter, Tumblr, LiveJournal and others. The pressure to beat them spurred innovation and led to many of the features that distinguish Facebook: simple, beautiful interfaces, the News Feed, a tie to real-world identities and more," he wrote.

Hughes concluded that breaking up Facebook would send a powerful message to rivals Google and Amazon "to think twice about stifling competition in their own sectors, out of fear that they could be next. If the government were to use this moment to resurrect an effective competition standard that takes a broader view of the full cost of 'free' products, it could affect a whole host of industries. The alternative is bleak."