Last Thursday, Facebook co-founder and Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate, Chris Hughes, published a bombshell op-ed in The New York Times, in which he publicly called for the dismantling of the company he helped Zuckerberg start 15 years ago.
“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,” Hughes wrote.
Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg was not a big fan of this suggestion.
“When I read what he wrote, my main reaction was that what he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues,” Zuckerberg told French TV news channel France Info while in Paris on Saturday. “I think that, if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year, like we are, in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference.”
Zuckerberg’s comments echoed the point that his chief of communications, Nick Clegg, made in a separate op-ed for The New York Times on Saturday. In the essay, Clegg challenged Hughes’ proposal that Facebook should to be broken up into multiple companies by arguing that a company’s size is not the root cause of its problems.
“In my view—and that of most people who write about technology’s impact on society—what matters is not size but rather the rights and interests of consumers,” he wrote. “And our accountability to the governments and legislators who oversee commerce and communications.”
In plain words, Zuckerberg and his Facebook spokesman are trying to convince the public that they are capable of doing the right thing, despite the fact that their unshakeable dominance in the social media space makes it seem like they can do anything they wish.
Among the “billions of dollars” of investments Zuckerberg was talking about to protect democracy and elections was a rare effort last year to hire tens of thousands of Facebook content moderators to flag and remove hate speech, political ads and other harmful content.
The practice, though, has drawn criticism after some of these low-earning contractors reported mental health crises as a result of absorbing too much disturbing content. In one instance, as revealed in an investigative report by The Verge in February, a content moderator in one of Facebook’s outsourced content centers in Arizona experienced a serious panic attack after reviewing a video depicting a man being murdered.
During an interview with NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt last Thursday, Hughes conceded that, after his bombshell New York Times article, he and Zuckerberg would probably never be friends again.
“We’ve grown apart a bit,” he said. “He’s a good person. He has an amazing family. I respect him in many ways. I also think he has too much power. And I don’t know if we’re gonna be friends after this. I really don’t know.”