In an opinion piece published today by The New York Times, Hughes, who liquidated his Facebook shares in 2012 and writes that he doesn’t “invest directly in any social media companies,” says his old partner, college classmate and current Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has amassed “unchecked power” that goes “far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government.”
In response, Facebook’s Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications, released the following statement to the press: “Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company. Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet. That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for. Indeed, he is meeting Government leaders this week to further that work.”
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Hughes, noting that he last saw Zuckerberg in the summer of 2017, writes in the Times, “Since then, Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive. The company’s mistakes — the sloppy privacy practices that dropped tens of millions of users’ data into a political consulting firm’s lap; the slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention — dominate the headlines. It’s been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard, and I haven’t worked at the company in a decade. But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility.”
Hughes proposes that Facebook reverse – or be forced to do so – its acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp, and that the U.S. government create an agency to regulate tech companies like Facebook.
“The F.T.C.’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp,” he writes. “In 2012, the newer platforms were nipping at Facebook’s heels because they had been built for the smartphone, where Facebook was still struggling to gain traction. Mark responded by buying them, and the F.T.C. approved.”
Regarding Zuckerberg’s recent Washington Post opinion column calling for some regulation, Hughes dismisses the move as a way to prevent a more drastic outcome.
“I don’t think these proposals were made in bad faith,” Hughes writes. “But I do think they’re an attempt to head off the argument that regulators need to go further and break up the company. Facebook isn’t afraid of a few more rules. It’s afraid of an antitrust case and of the kind of accountability that real government oversight would bring.”
A co-chairman of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at the Roosevelt Institute, Hughes insists he has remained friends with Zuckerberg. He writes: “Mark is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them.”
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