Calls for Facebook to be broken apart are intensifying in the United States and have already reached stateside politicians. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, California Senator Kamala, and California Representative Ro Khanna are among top-level politicians who voiced support for the idea following last week’s New York Times op-ed authored by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes wherein he openly said the social media juggernaut needs to be broken apart into tiny pieces which won’t be as slow to embrace regulatory changes that are expected to arrive in the near future.
The Harvard alumni who left Facebook twelve years ago insisted he had a positive view of co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg but argued no single human being should be entrusted so much responsibility, especially in the profit-driven private market. Facebook and the rest of its services are used by billions of people every day, so even the smallest mistakes such as wrongly optimized content algorithms for certain niches have the potential to have massive consequences and given the scope of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as the number of smaller privacy debacles starring the Menlo Park firm in recent years, it’s clear neither Mr. Zuckerberg nor anyone else at the conglomerate have any intention to stop experimenting and taking risks.
Approaching challenges in a rash manner is pretty much the root of all problems at Facebook in one way or another. “Move fast and break things” is how Mr. Zuckerberg summarized the manner of thinking he wanted to see from Facebook’s design team in the past. These days, the internal support for that policy may not be as vocal as it once was, yet it continues to guide many of the company’s processes. If the firm gave any thought to the very possibility that one of the most popular services in the history of mankind may be targeted by malicious actors seeking to abuse it for a wide variety of nefarious goals, it almost certainly would not have been as vulnerable to the broad range of misinformation campaigns that hit it in 2015 and 2016, having been coordinated with the goal of influencing the outcome of the last U.S. presidential race.
Still, it’s naive to expect Mr. Zuckerberg to hit the brakes and sacrifice profits in favor of the greater good, especially when that benefit is so vaguely defined. He’s a CEO of one of the most valuable companies in the world and is legally obliged to maximize shareholder returns to the best of his abilities, so the very notion of him policing himself (and with some 60-percent of voting shares, he basically is the company) is frivolous at best. That’s the gist of Mr. Hughes’s argument for breaking apart Facebook which some senior company officials such as Instagram chief Adam Mosseri already dismissed or downplayed.
Ultimately, the recent history of U.S. politics doesn’t suggest Facebook is facing a realistic threat of being broken apart; the lobbying dollars are simply more numerous and efficient than ever and gone are the days when someone like Microsoft would be happy to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to save a rival from bankruptcy in exchange for a few years of breathing room on the antitrust front. Today, Microsoft would be more likely to buy Apple than save it and American regulators would likely be more than happy to see it do so, so long as the right Super PACs keep “donating” the right amounts every year.