FACEBOOK BREAKUP?

Plenty of people have said that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, need to be reined in. Many have suggested the social networking platform has gotten too powerful and holds too much data, implying that to allow the company to continue to grow unregulated is increasingly dangerous. This week, however, a new voice chimed in: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

Noting that he hasn’t seen Zuckerberg since “the summer of 2017” when the two men “spent an hour or two together [at Zuckerberg’s home] while his toddler daughter cruised around,” Hughes goes on, in an open letter to the readership of the New York Times, to break apart just how Facebook gained “domination” over so much of the population’s personal information and attention and to conclude, “Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can.”

Hughes cited a plethora of places and situations in which Zuckerberg, as an individual largely unaccountable to anyone, has the ability to make decisions for thousands and even millions of people without any oversight. One example illustrates him making what is likely a good call: When Facebook first became a conduit for demonstrators, violent and otherwise, to reach their audience, Zuckerberg simply removed some of those demonstrators’ ability to message friends and other Facebook-based audiences[1]. It’s likely he saved countless lives, but, Hughes argued, “It’s deeply troubling that he made it with no accountability to any independent authority or government. Facebook could, in theory, delete en masse the messages of Americans, too, if its leadership decided it didn’t like them.”

Who is Chris Hughes?

Chris Hughes and Mark Zuckerberg were roommates at Harvard, and Hughes often served as the spokesman for the social media platform until he left the company in 2008 to work for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007[2]. He emphasized in his highly sympathetic letter that Zuckerberg is at heart a good person, but that no one person should have the type of power Zuckerberg has because he, like everyone else, is “only human.”

After leaving Facebook, Hughes went on to experience a great deal of success on his own. He served as the entrepreneur-in-residence for venture-capital firm General Catalyst in 2009, served as the executive director of Jumo, a nonprofit social networking organization, and has served in various positions for in high-level world-aid organizations. He also ran The New Republic magazine from 2012 until 2016, although the magazine was not profitable while he served as editor.

What Does Hughes’ Letter Mean for Facebook Shareholders?

After Hughes’ letter went public, Facebook remained silent for much longer than those of us accustomed to the lightning-quick responses enabled by social media might have expected. When the company did speak, CEO Mark Zuckerberg described his “main reaction” simply: “What he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues.”[3] He added, “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.”

Although some stockholders feared Hughes’ call to break up Facebook could hurt share values, the value of the stock did not plummet in the wake of the publication. Today, Facebook was trading just under $183, well over its year-opening value of $135.86. Will Healy, a market analyst and InvestorPlace contributor, observed, “Facebook’s user base continues to grow and Facebook stock is still on an upward trajectory, indicating that average people don’t care about the negative headlines.”[4]

Healy did strike one warning note, however. “At this point, almost anyone who can get a Facebook page now has one. That means Facebook’s growth will decelerate unless it either better monetizes its flagship site or generates more revenue from its other websites and apps,” he said.

Tell us what you think:

  • Is Facebook still a good investment?
  • Should the federal government break up Facebook?
  • Is Facebook nearing the “saturation point” in your opinion?

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/09/opinion/sunday/chris-hughes-facebook-zuckerberg.html

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/09/facebook-co-founder-chris-hughes-calls-for-the-company-to-be-broken-up.html

[3] https://www.thewrap.com/zuckerberg-breakup-facebook-wont-help/

[4] https://www.nasdaq.com/article/global-saturation-poses-a-challenge-to-facebook-stock-cm1147344

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