Facebook co-founder calls for social network to be broken up

Yesterday’s social network news was a New York Times opinion piece by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Hughes left Facebook in 2007 to work on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; in 2012, Hughes sold his shares in Facebook for half a billion dollars. Now, Hughes is calling for a break up of Facebook.

Overall, Hughes made many of the same criticisms that others have made about Facebook under the stewardship of his former business partner, Mark Zuckerberg. Hughes mentioned Facebook’s lack of concern about its influence on global affairs; he also regretted not doing things differently early in Facebook’s development.

Hughes’s article also called for the government to break up Facebook, which of course drew the most attention (and headlines). Some, such as the Atlantic, noted how hard that’d be outside of the most obvious lines (forcing Facebook to spin off WhatsApp and Instagram).

I’d also note a lack of enforcing the nation’s antitrust laws, plus concerted deregulation efforts since the 1980s.  All of which has led to, well, the current state of business affairs, where Disney’s allowed to buy Fox and AT&T to buy Time Warner—despite that all four of those companies were already too large even separately.

Alternatives to a Facebook break up

Photo by PhotoMIX-Company (Pixabay / CC0)

Thus, I highly doubt the US government will break up Facebook. That’d require politicians who’re actually willing to enforce competitive, fair laws and are technologically savvy; unfortunately, that doesn’t describe a good portion of Congress, the FCC, or the current President.

The other options for fundamental changes to Facebook are probably either:

  • Ousting Zuckerberg as CEO. That seems unlikely, given Facebook’s ownership structure.
  • A new social network (or some other new innovation) eclipsing Facebook in popularity. Theoretically possible, but it’d have to be one heck of a social network or innovation to get Facebook’s hardcore users to abandon it. Plus, it assumes Facebook doesn’t copy or buy out any innovators.
  • Some other legal threat besides antitrust measures forcing a change. I’m not sure what that’d consist of; I’d guess it’d require either a massive change in regulatory attitudes by the US government and/or the European Union somehow forcing major changes.

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