Hughes, who left the social media giant in 2007 and cashed out his nearly $500 million worth of stock, has been making the rounds in the nation’s capital to press the case for breaking up the social network.
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has become one of the company’s biggest problems.
In recent weeks, Hughes, who left the social media giant in 2007 and cashed out his nearly $500 million worth of stock, has been making the rounds in the nation’s capital, visiting a dozen lawmakers and regulators at the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies interested in examining whether Facebook has amassed too much power. He’s talked with the staff of the New York attorney general.
In some of those meetings, he and his collaborators have presented a 39-page slide deck that makes a point-by-point legal case for breaking up the social network, drawing on decades of antitrust law precedent.
The crux of the case, designed by two antitrust scholars: Facebook’s wealth and power and massive user base have pushed it into monopoly territory, and its acquisitions of rivals have squashed competition. More than 2.7 billion people use Facebook or its other platforms, which include Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, at least once a month, Facebook said Wednesday.
“I hope that my speaking out provides cover to a lot of other folks, whether former employees or current ones, to express ambivalence or concern about what’s going on,” Hughes said in an interview Thursday. “And I think there’s a lot to be concerned about.”
Hughes, who helped develop the social media giant with Mark Zuckerberg in their Harvard University dorm, has become a critical weapon to trust-busters in a fight that keeps expanding in scope, threatening tech giants including Amazon, Apple and Google with potential new regulations or even a breakup. Just this week, the Justice Department said it was opening an expanded inquiry targeting “market-leading online platforms.” And on Wednesday, Facebook disclosed that it is facing an antitrust investigation by the FTC.
Hughes has become one of the most powerful in a new breed of antagonists to Facebook: a former executive who believes he created something that is now harmful to society.
Facebook declined to comment. Some of Hughes’s lobbying was first reported by the New York Times.
The growing momentum in Washington to more closely scrutinize the role of tech giants in consumers’ lives and the effect on competition — one of the few bipartisan issues emerging among lawmakers and candidates across the nation — has often been fueled by private complaints by small businesses and rivals that feel as though they’ve gotten a raw deal as the massive companies dominate their relative spaces.
Hughes is joined in public criticism of Facebook by former Facebook president Sean Parker, early investor Robert McNamee and other former senior executives.
Facebook has argued that it is not a monopoly and should not be broken up. Testifying before Congress in April 2018, Zuckerberg responded to a question about the competition his company faces by pointing out that the average American uses eight apps to communicate with friends. “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg said when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked whether Facebook is a monopoly.