Facebook’s co-founder calls for break up - Activate World

Facebook’s co-founder calls for break up

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is calling for regulators to break up the social media giant, which he calls a “powerful monopoly, eclipsing all of its rivals and erasing competition.” He saw firsthand the company’s evolution from a dorm room project to an over $500 billion company used by billions of people worldwide. 

Lunchtime Conversations:

  • The advertising business model is the thing that forces technology companies to maximize attention. Negative emotions engage more powerfully than positive emotions. Can Facebook change this model that brings out the worst in human nature? 
  • Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP for global affairs and communications said, “Anyone worried about the challenges we face in an online world should look at getting the rules of the internet right, not dismantling successful American companies.” How can Facebook be held accountable for its actions regardless of regulatory oversight?
  • Tech critic, Tristan Harris, started a movement called Time Well Spent that urges software developers to tone down the compulsive elements of their inventions and the millions who find themselves addicted, to change their behavior. What role can software developers play in changing how behavior is embedded in the programs being deployed?

Noteworthy:

  • In a new Fortune 500 CEO Poll: 50% of the CEOs surveyed believe Facebook “has grown so large and influential that it needs additional regulation.”
  • Chris Hughes, Facebook co-founder, said, “Facebook’s staff, himself included, should have thought more about how the News Feed algorithm could “change our culture, influence ectoplasm and empower elections and empower nationalist leaders.”
  • Facebook is currently in negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and is expected to receive a fine between $3 billion and $5 billion. Zuckerberg himself could reportedly be held responsible for Facebook’s privacy lapses going forward.

Storyline:

In the op-ed, Hughes focuses primarily on CEO Mark Zuckerberg, noting that his “personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive” in recent years.  According to Hughes, mistakes include “slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention.” He added, Zuckerberg’s focus on Facebook’s “growth” has caused him to “sacrifice security and civility for clicks.”

Facebook is a public company with a board of directors, and Zuckerberg serves as board chair and controls around 65% of the voting shares. Hughes says this structure effectively reduces the power of the board to that of an advisory body.   

Yahoo attempted to buy Facebook for $1 billion in 2006, but Zuckerberg resisted because he disliked the idea of working for Yahoo’s then-boss, Terry Semel. Hughes makes the point that Zuckerberg never had to worry much about accountability, which helps explain why the company is in constant turmoil.

Hughes calls for regulators to break up Facebook, similar to the way AT&T was broken up in the 1980s and argues that Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp should be undone, and the company temporarily blocked from future mergers. 

Elizabeth Warren has also called for Facebook and other tech giants to be broken up or strongly regulated. In March she said, “To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.”

Sources: Fortune, The New York Times, TimeWired

Photo by Nghia Nguyen on Unsplash