Facebook Co-Founder, Lawmakers Call For Social Network Split

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The Facebook logo in 2012 is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke, AP file photo)
The Facebook logo in 2012 is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke, AP file photo)

With Jane Clayson

Facebook’s co-founder Chris Hughes and more say it’s time to break up the company. We break down the case for and against.


Tim Wu, professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School. Author of "The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age." (@superwuster)

Matt Rosoff, editorial director of technology coverage for CNBC Digital. Former executive editor of Business Insider, where he ran the San Francisco bureau and oversaw technology coverage. (@MattRosoff)

From The Reading List

New York Times: "Opinion: It’s Time to Break Up Facebook" — "The last time I saw Mark Zuckerberg was in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. We met at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., office and drove to his house, in a quiet, leafy neighborhood. We spent an hour or two together while his toddler daughter cruised around. We talked politics mostly, a little about Facebook, a bit about our families. When the shadows grew long, I had to head out. I hugged his wife, Priscilla, and said goodbye to Mark.

"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."

CNBC: "Facebook is not a monopoly, and breaking it up would defy logic and set a bad precedent" — "Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes laid out his arguments for breaking up the company in a lengthy op-ed for The New York Times on Thursday.

"The essence of his argument seems to be that a single person, Mark Zuckerberg, has too much control over the communications platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, that billions of people use. Therefore, the government should force Facebook to divest its other communications platforms and create a new agency to regulate tech companies, particularly around privacy.

"The break-up argument is compelling if you’re predisposed to dislike Zuckerberg and Facebook after the last few years of blunders related to user data and misinformation, and Facebook’s often tone-deaf or seemingly indifferent responses to these incidents. (Zuckerberg didn’t do himself any favors by cracking an awkward joke about his company’s privacy troubles in his speech at a company conference last week.)

"It’s also illogical, difficult and a waste of time."

Forbes: "Opinion: Why Breaking Up Facebook Doesn't Solve Our Most Pressing Social Media Problem" — "This week, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, delivered a dramatic and dire diagnosis of threats his former company poses to our society. Much of his assessment is accurate and troubling. Speaking as an insider, he provides a compelling account of just how powerful Facebook has become and the dangers associated with its dominance. Yet the prescription he proposes—breaking up the company—doesn’t address what is perhaps the most important aspect of the problem—namely, the flood of politically divisive disinformation and harmful content online.

"In his 5,500 word essay, Hughes vividly captures Mark Zuckerberg’s driving ambition to dominate Facebook’s rivals and the company’s relentless pursuit of growth, often without adequate attention to the well-being of the larger society. Hughes chides the U.S. government for allowing Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp and recommends that Facebook be broken up on antitrust grounds.

"But let’s assume that the government takes the action Hughes proposes and forces Facebook to divest itself of WhatsApp and Instagram. Then what? Will this stop the Russians from meddling in our 2020 elections and continuing to misuse the internet to further polarize our politics? Will it prevent authoritarian governments elsewhere from deploying the internet to foment ethnic or religious tensions within their own countries? Will it avoid a recurrence of the recent glorification of extremist violence after the Christchurch mosque attacks, with thousands of people posting images of the massacre? And finally, will it prevent governments, both democratic and non-democratic, from imposing content regulations that will balkanize the internet and deny open public debate on politically contentious issues?"

Fast Company: "Zuck: Don’t break up Facebook, because we can protect you from the threat our platform enables" — "After the op-ed was published, Facebook released a small statement arguing that breaking up Facebook won’t lead to more accountability—only passing new rules for the internet can solve problems Facebook’s platform propagates. The statement itself seemed like an obvious dodge, as it didn’t address the crux of Hughes’ argument: that one man—Mark Zuckerberg—has an inordinate amount of power over the most influential platform to ever exist.

"Over the weekend, Zuckerberg himself chimed in on Hughes’ op-ed. Speaking to French broadcaster France 2, Zuckerberg said, 'My main reaction is that what he’s proposing we do isn’t going to do anything to help'…which is exactly what you would expect the guy who holds all the power Hughes warned about to say when someone suggests taking that power away from him.

"Zuckerberg went on to argue that Facebook’s size and scale actually helps to protect society from all the threats its platform enables."

Brian Hardzinski produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on May 14, 2019.



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