File this under ‘relationship status: It’s complicated’. Now even the CO-Founder is sounding the alarm!
One-time Harvard classmate and Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes still speaks well of Mark Zuckerberg, and shares his political leanings, but sees the concentration of so much unchecked power in one man’s hands as a serious threat.
His opinion is summed up well in a single quote from the article he wrote: “In other words, he’s human. But it’s his very humanity that makes his unchecked power so problematic.”
In a rather long and complex piece he wrote, calling for Facebook to be broken up (read the full article here) he made his case for why it’s time to break up Facebook.
[Citations will be from that same article.]
Channeling his inner Lord Acton (famous for the power corrupts quote):
Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — that billions of people use every day. Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.
Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government.
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.
Too much power. Too much influence. Too few hands.
So, what should be done about it?
Current solutions are meaningless:
Any day now, the Federal Trade Commission is expected to impose a $5 billion fine on the company, but that is not enough; nor is Facebook’s offer to appoint some kind of privacy czar. After Mark’s congressional testimony last year, there should have been calls for him to truly reckon with his mistakes. Instead the legislators who questioned him were derided as too old and out of touch to understand how tech works. That’s the impression Mark wanted Americans to have, because it means little will change.
This ‘power’ problem is bigger than just Facebook:
Their gospel was simple: “Free” markets are dynamic and productive, while government is bureaucratic and ineffective. By the mid-1980s, they had largely managed to relegate energetic antitrust enforcement to the history books.
This shift, combined with business-friendly tax and regulatory policy, ushered in a period of mergers and acquisitions that created megacorporations. In the past 20 years, more than 75 percent of American industries, from airlines to pharmaceuticals, have experienced increased concentration, and the average size of public companies has tripled. The results are a decline in entrepreneurship, stalled productivity growth, and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.
The same thing is happening in social media and digital communications. Because Facebook so dominates social networking, it faces no market-based accountability. This means that every time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern: first outrage, then disappointment and, finally, resignation.
If his thesis is correct, this rise of the megacorp and lack of competition itself becomes an inhibitor to future innovations and growth.
Hughes pressed the point by making this statement twice in two paragraphs:
“From our earliest days, Mark used the word “domination” to describe our ambitions.”
Where the FTC screwed up:
The F.T.C.’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. 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.
The Chilling effect of censorship and speech:
The most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.
Facebook engineers write algorithms that select which users’ comments or experiences end up displayed in the News Feeds of friends and family. These rules are proprietary and so complex that many Facebook employees themselves don’t understand them.
His Anti-Trust solution:
He cites its enormous size and control of social media revenue, growing by 40% even during its nightmare year of 2018.
Zuckerberg is making sure that startups don’t get to the point they can raise enough capital to seriously challenge Facebook as a competitor.
We don’t expect calcified rules or voluntary commissions to work to regulate drug companies, health care companies, car manufacturers or credit card providers. Agencies oversee these industries to ensure that the private market works for the public good. In these cases, we all understand that government isn’t an external force meddling in an organic market; it’s what makes a dynamic and fair market possible in the first place. This should be just as true for social networking as it is for air travel or pharmaceuticals.
And here comes the money quote:
Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power. 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.
First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years. The F.T.C. should have blocked these mergers, but it’s not too late to act. There is precedent for correcting bad decisions — as recently as 2009, Whole Foods settled antitrust complaints by selling off the Wild Oats brand and stores that it had bought a few years earlier.
He goes into further detail about exactly how that would work, too.
It’s good to know that there are still some on the Left who still value individual freedoms above the eternal quest for political power.
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