Please Break Up Facebook, Says Co-Founder, Before Zuckerberg Kills Us All
The weird thing about Facebook is that we all [most -- ed] still use it. The social media giant quite possibly helped destroy the country, but whatevs. There was also a major motion picture that depicted Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as a Bond villain in flip-flops. Stock prices only increased. Do we really need cat videos that much? Probably, but Facebook doesn't have to be the sole provider of time-wasting and data mining.
Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, thinks it's time to break up and actually regulate the company. In a New York Times op-ed today, Hughes argues that Facebook has grown "too big and too powerful." He also fears that Zuckerberg's "unchecked power" is taking him into cat-stroking diabolical mastermind territory.
HUGHES: Mark's influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. 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. 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. 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 goes on to describe Zuckerberg as a "good, kind man," which in context sounds like Mark Antony subtweeting Brutus at Caesar's funeral. It angers him that Zuckerberg sacrificed "security and civility" for his own personal ambition ... like all "good, kind people" do, we guess. He also accuses Zuckerberg of surrounding himself with a bunch of sycophants and yes men who don't challenge him. But Hughes doesn't just rag on his old college buddy. He's also "disappointed" that he and the early Facebook crew didn't fully consider how the social media site would go on to "change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders." This is probably why "startup Facebook," along with baby Hitler, is a major target for time-traveling assassins.
Hughes believes Zuckerberg's power is "unprecedented and un-American." Of course, this is a guy who Hughes claims often described his ultimate goal as "domination" without "irony or humility." He's also a manipulative bastard. Remember when he sat in a booster seat and testified before Congress last year? We all laughed at the old people asking Zuckerberg clueless questions about the Internet and horseless carriage, but he was really playing us for suckers.
HUGHES: After Mark's congressional testimony last year, there should have been calls for him to truly reckon with his mistakes. Instead the legislators who questioned him were derided as too old and out of touch to understand how tech works. That's the impression Mark wanted Americans to have, because it means little will change.
Zuckerberg has achieved the "domination" he sought. Facebook is worth half a trillion dollars, earning 80 percent of all social media revenue. It has crushed and absorbed all rivals. More critically, it's become a currency. The site is how we share news (some of it even real) and updates on our lives. It doesn't seem like much, but it's harder to quit than people think. People boast of abandoning Facebook in favor of Instagram without realizing Facebook owns Instagram.
HUGHES: 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.
Hughes thinks only the government can hold Zuckerberg accountable. He's right. It's time to break up this bloated monopoly and Elizabeth Warren has her jack hammer handy.
Warren proposes treating Facebook like a public utility. She also has her sights on Amazon and Google. Republicans normally are all "blah, blah, free market," but they also think Facebook has been mean to Diamond and Silk (really).
Hughes says that America has a "tradition" of tempering monopolies no matter how "well-intentioned" their leaders are. He has to make this point because otherwise your free market Adam Smith cosplayer would argue that the problem is Zuckerberg not Facebook itself. We tend to think it's both.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Seattle. However, he's more reliable for food and drink recommendations in Portland, where he spends a lot of time for theatre work. His co-adaptation of "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins is playing NOW at Pioneer Square's Cafe Nordo. All Wonketters welcome.