“Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, has spoken about the incredible power wielded by its chief executive and the lack of competition in the sector”
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has published an op-ed in The New York Times, speaking in detail about the issues pertaining to Facebook. He has highlighted multiple factors that lead to the company being pulled up so frequently for privacy and antitrust issues. The first and foremost of his points is in the amount of power that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg wields. Zuckerberg holds a majority of Facebook’s voting shares and has the power to single-handedly decide how and what he wants the platform to be – even without approval of the rest of his board members. Hughes, in fact, describes his power as being “far beyond that of almost anyone else in the private sector or in government,” giving us perspective at the kind of influence that he commands.
Hughes then proceeds on to the influence that the Facebook News Feed has had on our society, culture, elections, humanity, mental health, and pretty much every other significant area. Acknowledging that closer care and oversight must have been exerted on the Facebook Feed in order to protect its users from being exposed to negative ideas, Hughes says, “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.“
In the next couple of points, Hughes speaks about the lack of competition for Facebook, and even connects it to other industries overall, where he states that consumers typically have a very few choices that they would always use, resulting in monopolistic benefits for the company. The same goes for Facebook and Hughes says that the government’s reluctance to roll out regulations to control Facebook’s growth and lack of industry competition is what led to the situation that is prevalent right now. He further calls for tighter government regulations, and urges that we need to have the will to regulate the monopolies, to try and stop them from repeatedly making similar mistakes what it comes to factors such as data usage, collection, user privacy and manipulation, as well as quality and status of content on its platform.
Hughes states that just like the European GDPR laws, the US too needs such a bill to be passed. In his own words, “A landmark privacy bill in the United States should specify exactly what control Americans have over their digital information, require clearer disclosure to users and provide enough flexibility to the agency to exercise effective oversight over time. The agency should also be charged with guaranteeing basic inter-operability across platforms.“
As for controlling the quality of speech and content on the platform, Hughes deems that necessary too, even if it goes against the Silicon Valley’s typically established ethos of free speech. He writes, “This idea may seem un-American — we would never stand for a government agency censoring speech. But we already have limits on yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, child pornography, speech intended to provoke violence and false statements to manipulate stock prices. We will have to create similar standards that tech companies can use. These standards should of course be subject to the review of the courts, just as any other limits on speech are. But there is no constitutional right to harass others or live-stream violence.“
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of communications, sent a response statement to CNN on the back of co-founder Hughes’ op-ed, stating that “you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company.” Facebook claims that it is open to regulations being established and social media being governed by it. However, it remains to be seen if any effect is undertaken on it and whether the op-ed by Hughes creates any difference at all.