This is an incredibly long and well-reasoned column in the New York Times from one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook—asserting that Facebook as we know it must be destroyed. Chris Hughes co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, and he left the company about ten years ago. Watching the endless array of Facebook scandals and outright buffoonery has made Hughes feel “a sense of anger and responsibility,” and a big part of his critique is the massive responsibility Mark Zuckerberg has given himself, to disastrous consequences. Per Hughes:
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 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.
This essay is as much about Mark Zuckerberg as it is Facebook (since the two are one and the same in many respects), as demonstrated by this paragraph charging Mark Zuckerberg with wanting the American people to be misinformed about his company’s failures:
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.
Facebook is a monopoly. It’s impossible to run a business without it, as Milo Yiannopoulos’ disappearance from the media discourse proves. Monopolies are one of the few things that both capitalists and socialists agree on: they shouldn’t exist. They restrict competition (for example, Instagram built a better Facebook and instead of improving their product, Facebook just bought Instagram and blocked out the rest of the photo-sharing market), and concentrate wealth at the very top of the economic system. This is by design. “Monopoly” is just a fancy word for institutionalized theft by the wealthiest among us.
America used to break up monopolies. In 1890, we passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, which effectively delivered the government something like Thor’s Hammer for capitalism. Antitrust legislation allows the government to intervene in the affairs of one gigantic company under one umbrella, and smash it into a bunch of smaller companies under multiple umbrellas.
In 1911, we broke up American Tobacco and Standard Oil—two of the most powerful conglomerates in the history of mankind. The existence of our present economy defined entirely by monopolies and oligopolies is a choice. We do not need to pass any new laws to cure our present malaise—we just need to enforce active laws like we did with Microsoft in the 1990s or AT&T in the 1980s. There is no better proof that our democracy is a sham and America’s oligarchs are really running the show than people whose job it is to enforce the law not enforcing laws that we have enforced many times before.
NBC “dystopia beat” reporter, Ben Collins, who covers online extremism, explained why breaking up Facebook is so vitally important to the basic concept of freedom.
Facebook has proven time and time and time again that they cannot be trusted to govern themselves, as another new revelation demonstrated today.
If we are being met with daily reports of Facebook’s sometimes-illegal failures, all while it exists as a monopoly in defiance of federal antitrust law, then that says quite a bit about the power that Facebook has over our political system. Not only has it subsumed part of the federal government into its sphere of influence, but it has replicated actual government power over all of us, and according to their co-founder, Zuckerberg is hoping to ensure that “little will change.”
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.