It’s one thing when Elizabeth Warren starts talking about breaking up Facebook on the campaign trail. As a strong progressive voice, she understands that taking on Facebook has become a moral imperative. Her audience expects that type of discourse from her, and the other side of the public writes it off as liberal nonsense.
It’s quite another thing entirely when one of the original founders of Facebook takes to The New York Times to provide the clearest and cleanest arguments for dissolving the blue behemoth. And that’s exactly what Chris Hughes did.
The article is impressive not only for its depth but its breadth. Hughes provides anecdotes from the early days of Facebook that provide insight into Mark Zuckerberg’s character and mindset. He makes it clear that Zuckerberg is not on trial, that he is doing nothing nefarious, but simply that the position he is in has become too powerful for any one person to hold. Facebook needs to get trust-busted.
I’ll admit to having no idea who Chris Hughes was when I saw the article gain steam across the web. But by the time I reached the end of the lengthy piece, there was no doubt in my mind that the break up Facebook movement now has a capable leader. Part history lesson, part ethical plea, and part business plan, Hughes leaves no stone unturned.
The arguments for breaking up Facebook are strong. It qualifies as a monopoly in every sense of the term. Everyone uses it. There is no alternative. It commands huge market shares of attention and ad dollars. It gobbles up or copies any competitor so that no real competition can emerge.
What’s worse though is that it’s gotten so big that it can’t even police itself. Hughes brings up the content moderators who suffer, the failures in limiting the reach of extremist content and even an example of mis-information spreading in Myanmar that Zuckerberg had to personally shut down.
Hughes goes beyond just vaguely saying that Facebook should be broken up, he outlines that Whatsapp and Instagram should be spun off, each with public shares. He cites historical precedent and the positive results this can have on shareholder value. Breaking up Facebook makes good business sense.
And he talks about what could happen if the playing field gets a bit more level for competition. New social networks with alternative business models that people could pick and choose between. He doesn’t get into specifics but that’s the whole point, just like before Facebook we never imagined that social media could be a thing, we can’t imagine what could come out of new opportunities. But we do know what will happen if things stay the same.
I imagine that Zuckerberg was not particularly happy with this piece, Hughes tried not to paint him in a bad light, but with all the scandals and the subject matter, Zuckerberg is not exactly worthy of excessive praise (except in terms of shareholder value). We’ll see how Facebook reacts – be it speeding up their road map to integrating the messaging services or by coming out with a PR storm.
But if you agree with Hughes as I do, this article might become the catapult needed to bring lawmakers to the table to do something about the effect that Facebook is having on our society.