In an opinion piece, published Thursday (May 9) in The New York Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has called for regulators to break up the company.
Hughes blames the company’s slipshod privacy practices, violent rhetoric, fake news, and its lackadaisical response to Russian propaganda for the sharp decline in “Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook” in the last couple of years.
Despite the fact that Hughes co-founded Facebook fifteen years ago and hasn’t been a part of the company in any capacity in a decade, he feels “a sense of anger and responsibility” for the way the company has gone about conducting its affairs.
According to Hughes, Zuckerberg’s obsession for growth, even if it came at the expense of security and ethics, led him to misuse the overwhelming influence and unbridled power he wields in the company.
“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” writes Hughes, going on to add that Zuckerberg is the sole deciding authority when it comes to Facebook’s algorithm configurations.
It effectively means that he is the one who determines “what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.”
“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,” he adds.
And the fact that the people around Mark are of the yes-sir-you’re-right-sir kind; a support team that “reinforces his beliefs” rather than question them; is rather worrying, Hughes laments.
Not too long ago, Zuckerberg was under tremendous investor pressure to step down as Facebook chairman after an NYT report accused the company of hiring a Washington-based consultant, Definers Public Affairs, to malign its critics and competitors.
According to the report, “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros.”
The NYT investigation also revealed that Facebook didn’t even spare its business relationships, “lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”
The report went on to claim that a Definers affiliate called NTK Network – a conservative news site – ran dozens of articles attacking tech giants Apple and Google for indulging in “unsavory business practices.”
In fact, one particular story went to the extent of calling Apple CEO Tim Cook “hypocritical” for criticizing Facebook over privacy concerns, when the Cupertino-based company itself collects “reams of data from users.”
While an embattled Zuckerberg was still reeling from the NYT assault, another damaging piece by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan came along to add to the man’s miseries.
Calling him an incapable leader of “the broken behemoth that is Facebook,” Sullivan wrote that Zuckerberg hides, denies, blame-shifts and “speaks in the worst kind of fuzzy corporate clichés.”
Citing what she called “two stunning pieces of journalism,” including the NYT story and another by feature writer Eli Saslow in the Washington Post, she said that Facebook is like a “rudderless ship sailing toward the apocalypse — and we’re all along for the ride.”
“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” Facebook investor and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer was quoted by Business Insider as saying, at the time.
All of Facebook’s woes can, essentially, be traced back to the “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which surfaced in March 2018.
Facebook reportedly harvested the data of some 50 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, however, denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.
According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.
The consultancy, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign; not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends.
Coming back to Thursday’s opinion piece, Hughes has also called for the creation of a dedicated agency to keep a strict vigil on tech companies.
Unhappy with Facebook’s monopolistic approach, and that’s putting it mildly, he suggests that the company should be broken up into multiple companies, and also forced to reverse its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp to create a level playing field.
“First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years,” Hughes suggests.
Citing the antitrust claims against Whole Foods, which it settled by selling off Wild Oats brand and stores, he says that it’s still not too late for the Federal Trade Commission to act.
Hughes’ piece was bound to raise a few hackles in the Menlo Park company, and it did.
In a statement published by CNN’s Hadas Gold, former UK deputy prime minister and the current global affairs head at Facebook, Nick Clegg, said:
“Facebook accepts that success comes accountability. But “But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company.”