One of Facebook’s co-founders has called for the social network to be broken up by regulators, arguing that Mark Zuckerberg’s “unchecked power” has created a monopoly and given him “unilateral control over speech”.
Chris Hughes, one of the social network’s earliest employees, said on Thursday that Mr Zuckerberg’s pursuit of market domination had “erased competition from the social networking category”. He also criticised his co-founder for poor corporate governance.
In a nearly 6,000-word opinion piece in the New York Times, Mr Hughes urged the US Federal Trade Commission and the justice department to “undo” Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram, the photo-sharing app, and the WhatsApp messaging app, and to ban future mergers “for several years”.
He also called for the creation of a new government agency to regulate tech companies, with privacy as a priority.
“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” Mr Hughes said. “I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.”
Democratic senators including Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal have also called for the break-up of Facebook, as the social network tries to head off mounting legal and regulatory woes related to data privacy concerns.
The company is in the middle of negotiating a settlement with the FTC over privacy violations related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. While the terms of the settlement have yet to be finalised, Facebook has said it expects to pay a penalty of between $3bn and $5bn.
Still, advertisers have not been deterred from using the platform: the company posted a 26 per cent increase in first-quarter revenues last month, largely from advertising. Shares have risen more than 40 per cent in the year to date, to $188.
Mr Zuckerberg said earlier this year that Facebook is open to increased regulation. He also promised to shift the company towards a “privacy-focused” future, merging the messaging services of its three apps into one encrypted system. But critics have argued that the move is partly designed to guard against regulators breaking the company apart.
On Thursday, Mr Hughes, who has not worked at Facebook for a decade, argued that breaking up the company would allow competitors “to flourish” and could also benefit shareholders, citing the break-ups of AT&T and Standard Oil.
Mr Hughes left Facebook in 2007 to work on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In 2012, he bought The New Republic, but sold the left-leaning political magazine just four years later, admitting he had failed in his mission to turn it into a digital media company.
In the New York Times on Thursday, Mr Hughes also criticised Mr Zuckerberg’s “unchecked” power, noting that he controls around 60 per cent of Facebook’s voting shares. He described the board as “more like an advisory committee than an overseer”.
The company is facing a backlash from some activist shareholders ahead of its annual meeting at the end of the month, including motions designed to dilute Mr Zuckerberg’s voting rights.
Mr Hughes, who published a book last year arguing for a guaranteed income for the poor in the US, said that he had liquidated his Facebook shares in 2012.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications, said: “Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the break-up of a successful American company.
“Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet,” he added. “That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for.”
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