Call for Facebook to be broken up

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Image: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

One of the co-founders of Facebook has called for the social media behemoth to be broken up, warning that the company’s head, Mark Zuckerberg, had become far too powerful.

“It’s time to break up Facebook,” Chris Hughes, who along with Zuckerberg founded the online network in their dorm room while both were students at Harvard University in 2004, said on Thursday.

In an editorial in The New York Times, Hughes said Zuckerberg’s “focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks,” and warned that his global influence had become staggering.

Zuckerberg not only controls Facebook but also the widely used Instagram and WhatsApp platforms, and Hughes said “Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer”.

Hughes, who quit Facebook more than a decade ago, was pictured in the newspaper together with Zuckerberg when both were fresh-faced students launching Facebook as a campus networking tool.

He accused Facebook of acquiring or copying all of its competitors to achieve dominance in the social media field, meaning that investors were reluctant to back any rivals because they knew they could not compete for long.

“Zuckerberg has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice,” Hughes, who is now a member of the Economic Security Project, wrote.

The project is pushing for a universal basic income in the US.

After buying up its main competitor Instagram, where people can publish photos, and WhatsApp, a secure messaging service, Facebook now has 2.7billion monthly users across its platforms.

“The most problematic asinvestments,” pect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech.

“There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organise and even censor the conversations of two billion people,” Hughes said.

The company has been rocked by a series of scandals recently, including allowing its users’ data to be harvested by research companies.

“The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people,” Hughes said.

He urged the government to break away Instagram and WhatsApp and prevent new acquisitions for several years.

“Even after a break-up, Facebook would be a hugely profitable business with billions to invest in new technologies – and a more competitive market would only encourage those he said.

Hughes said the break-up, under existing antitrust laws, would allow better privacy protection for social media users and would cost US authorities almost nothing.

Hughes said that he remained friends with Zuckerberg, noting that “he’s human”.

“But it’s his very humanity that makes his unchecked power so problematic”.