Facebook co-founder calls for its dissolution

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes — one of Mark Zuckerberg’s roommates at Harvard — wrote a comprehensive, somewhat scathing op-ed for the New York Times calling for the dissolution of the company he helped found. Calling Facebook a “monopoly” and challenging the government to break up the company, Hughes highlights some of the major ways both Facebook and Zuckerberg himself have gained and maintained unprecedented influence and control.

“We are a nation with a tradition of reining in monopolies, no matter how well intentioned the leaders of these companies may be,” Hughes writes. “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American. It is time to break up Facebook.”

While the idea of breaking up a company as massive as Facebook may seem unfathomable to many Americans, Hughes argues that our government actually has a long history of not allowing power to be consolidated, starting with the formation of the three branches of government. He goes on to outline various monopolies — mostly in tech — that the government has broken up over the past couple hundred of years.

“America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. That’s why the founders created a system of checks and balances,” Hughes writes. “They didn’t need to foresee the rise of Facebook to understand the threat that gargantuan companies would pose to democracy. Jefferson and Madison were voracious readers of Adam Smith, who believed that monopolies prevent the competition that spurs innovation and leads to economic growth.”

Hughes also describes what he calls Zuckerberg’s striving for total “domination” of the social networking world. He argues that it's this focus on being not only the best but the only that has led to our current societal problems with Facebook. Pointing to the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as the choice to copy Snapchat’s key features, Hughes illustrates just how difficult it is for competitors to gain a foothold in the market.

“As a result of all this, would-be competitors can’t raise the money to take on Facebook,” he writers. “Investors realize that if a company gets traction, Facebook will copy its innovations, shut it down or acquire it for a relatively modest sum. So despite an extended economic expansion, increasing interest in high-tech start-ups, an explosion of venture capital and growing public distaste for Facebook, no major social networking company has been founded since the fall of 2011.”

Finally, Hughes calls for not only a breakup of Facebook as it stands now, but also stronger government regulation moving forward.

“Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power,” he writes. “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.”

It’s a big proposal — and certainly a dramatic one. But it’s becoming increasing difficult to argue that Hughes is wrong. Facebook is undoubtedly a monopoly and Zuckerberg, with 60 percent of board voting shares, is its clear monarch. The question now is: Does our government have the guts to take him down? Only time will tell.

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