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12.05.2019
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Facebook defends itself against op-ed calling for its breakup

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

On Thursday, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling for the company to be broken up, saying that CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s “focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks,” and that he should be held accountable for his company’s mistakes. Now, Facebook has responded an op-ed of its own, saying that its size isn’t the real problem, and that its success as a platform shouldn’t be punished.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications wrote the piece, and in it, he agrees with Hughs that “companies should be held accountable for their actions,” and that tech companies such as Facebook shouldn’t be the ones handling all of the “important social, political and ethical questions” for the internet.

The challenges ‘won’t evaporate by breaking up Facebook or any other big tech company’

But he notes that breaking Facebook up — as Hughes calls for — would be the wrong way to go. “The challenges he alludes to,” Clegg writes, “including election interference and privacy safeguards, won’t evaporate by breaking up Facebook or any other big tech company.” He goes on to reiterate many of Facebook’s regular talking points: that it’s been a net-positive for the world by connecting everyone, allowing businesses thrive and for people to raise lots of money for important causes around the world.

Zuckerberg also responded to the op-ed while in France, saying that “my main reaction was that what [Hughes is] proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues.”

Notably, Clegg sidesteps what’s probably the op-ed’s main focus: Zuckerberg himself. Hughes notes that while the CEO is a good person, he holds far too much power at Facebook, and can’t be held accountable there — he calls the shots. “The government must hold Mark accountable,” Hughes wrotes.

He pushes back against Hughes’ argument that Facebook dominates too much of the online world, and counterintuitively, argues that the company actually isn’t a monopoly, saying that its revenue only makes up 20 percent of the advertising marketplace. Besides, Hughes is misunderstanding anti-trust law, and those laws are out of date and wouldn’t be effective anyway.

Clegg argues that Facebook’s size and scale aren’t the real problems

Clegg argues that Facebook’s size and scale aren’t the real problems — it’s that size and scale that’s allowed it to innovate and reach billions of people. He ticks off the things that Facebook has been working on in the last couple of years: removing terror and hate-related content, disrupting efforts from foreign governments trying to interfere in elections, and protecting users’ data. “That would be pretty much impossible for a smaller company,” he writes.

But that line underscores Hughes’ point: none of those problems would be possible with a smaller company, and that all of the problems that Facebook is trying to solve are exacerbated by Facebook’s incredible reach around the world. The problems won’t “evaporate,” but they might be a bit more manageable within a smaller footprint.

Updated May 11th, 2019, 1:53PM ET: Updated to include Zuckerberg’s separate comments.

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