Should the government break up Facebook? In a previous commentary, I quoted Senator Ted Cruz who observed that the current big tech companies “are larger and more powerful than when Standard Oil was broken up” and “larger and more powerful than AT&T when it was broken up.” Nevertheless, he and other senators don’t seem ready to act.
But joining this discussion is Mark Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook. He concludes in his New York Times op-ed that, “It is time to break up Facebook.” His argument is simple. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have become too powerful and have a virtual monopoly in the area of social media. After all, Facebook has also acquired Instagram and WhatsApp. That means “about 70 percent of American adults use social media, and the vast majority are on Facebook products.”
He reminds us that Mark Zuckerberg has “unilateral control over speech.” In fact, he concludes, “There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.” While that is true, I must also disagree with the solutions proposed by Mark Hughes. Not only does he want the government to break up Facebook, but he also wants Congress to create a new agency to draft guidelines for acceptable speech on social media.
He does acknowledge that the idea of government regulation of speech “may seem un-American.” Perhaps that is because such an idea is indeed un-American and contrary to the First Amendment. We don’t need government deciding what is or is not acceptable speech.
I applaud Mark Hughes for speaking up about Facebook. He deserves to be heard because he knows Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook because he was its co-founder. His diagnosis is sound, but his prescription is not. If the government does decide to break up Facebook, it shouldn’t then decide to also become the arbiter of what can or cannot be said on social media.