Zuckerberg's Old Roommate Says Enough Is Enough

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes says the company must be broken up
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2019 8:30 AM CDT
Zuckerberg's Old Dormmate Issues a Call to Action
In this 2017, photo, provided by Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks out the window in his old dorm room at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass.   (Courtesy of Facebook via AP)

(Newser) – Facebook is used to hearing complaints that it's too big and powerful—just last month, for instance, 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren argued that it needed to be broken up. But never has the complaint come so forcefully from someone so instrumental to the company's very creation: In a lengthy op-ed in the New York Times, co-founder Chris Hughes—yes, Mark Zuckerberg's old dormmate at Harvard—makes the case. Details and coverage:

  • Main point: "It is time to break up Facebook," writes Hughes. He calls it a "monopoly" of mammoth scale and says it never should have been allowed to buy Instagram and WhatsApp. "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." (He goes on to offer more specific details on what this would look like.)
  • On Zuckerberg: "Mark is a good, kind person," he writes, and in many ways the same guy Hughes would watch hugging his parents goodbye at Harvard, the same guy "who fell in love with his future wife while in line for the bathroom at a party." But Zuckerberg's power is now dangerously excessive, Hughes writes. His "influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government," because he controls what billions of people around the world see and hear.

  • Bridges burned? Hughes discusses the op-ed with NBC News and says the "Facebook that exists today is not the Facebook that we founded in 2004." On how this public split will affect their relationship: "I have been friends with Mark and a lot of the other folks at Facebook for a long time," he says. "And you know, who knows? We may still be friends, we may not be friends. There are some kinds of friends that you can have disagreements with. And then there are some friends that you can't."
  • His worth, mission: Hughes left Facebook in 2007 a very rich man. "For three years’ worth of work at Facebook, I ended up with nearly half a billion dollars, which is nothing but a lucky break,” Hughes said last year, per TechCrunch. "That is indicative of a fundamental unfairness in our economy." Forbes pegged his net worth at $430 million in 2016. Hughes has become an advocate for income equality through his book Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn. He liquidated his Facebook shares in 2012 and no longer invests in social media.
  • His own role: "I feel a sense of anger and responsibility," writes Hughes, who notes his name is on the patent for the much-maligned Facebook News Feed. "I take responsibility for not sounding the alarm earlier." Hughes also recalls a conversation with Zuckerberg when the company had only about 50 employees, and Zuckerberg voiced the intense pressure he felt not to fail. "I gazed out the window and thought to myself, It’s never going to stop. The bigger we get, the harder we’ll have to work to keep growing."
  • A standout passage: "Don Graham, a former Facebook board member, has accused those who criticize the company now as having 'all the courage of the last man leaping on the pile at a football game.' The financial rewards I reaped from working at Facebook radically changed the trajectory of my life, and even after I cashed out, I watched in awe as the company grew. It took the 2016 election fallout and Cambridge Analytica to awaken me to the dangers of Facebook’s monopoly. But anyone suggesting that Facebook is akin to a pinned football player misrepresents its resilience and power."
  • Fine coming: The op-ed comes with the FCC on the brink of fining Facebook an expected $5 billion over privacy violations, per NPR. ("Not enough," writes Hughes.)
Zuckerberg now says the "future is private.")

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