Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg is pushing back against calls for a company breakup. During a conversation with Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday, the CEO said that dismantling the social media behemoth wouldn't solve the company’s problems — including election interference, privacy matters, or misinformation.
Zuckerberg said keeping Facebook intact would actually allow it to better deal with its many challenges. Moreover, he said, the social network has actually fostered technological innovation by scooping up companies like Instagram and WhatsApp.
"I can kind of get why politically saying that you want to break up the companies feels nice, right. It's like, 'Okay, there are issues. Let's just take a big hammer and go do it.' But I just think the reality is we want to make sure the things we do actually address the problems," he said.
Facebook's size as a benefit
Facebook has been under ever-increasing scrutiny on topics ranging from election interference, misinformation campaigns, and data privacy since it emerged that the political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica used Facebook user data to aid in the election of Donald Trump without users’ consent. The Cambridge Analytica scandal — combined with efforts by the Russian government to sow discord among American voters and several other privacy mishaps — have spurred calls for Facebook to be regulated.
With the public's trust in Big Tech shattered, politicians have swept in with calls to break up some of the largest tech companies to curb their influence.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a presidential contender, has already laid out a plan that would see tech companies dismantled, which Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has echoed in his own right. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, have called for an examination of the tech industry and whether larger companies should face antitrust regulators. Former Vice President Joe Biden has also said that Big Tech needs to be looked at through the lens of potential antitrust measures.
But Zuckerberg argues that the calls to dismantle Facebook won't address the core issues of privacy, election interference, and misinformation.
"Look at Twitter, look at Reddit, all of these different services—Youtube is not much smaller than us, but you know Twitter and Reddit are. They have hundreds of millions of people instead of billions, but do they face qualitatively different issues or the same misinformation questions or election interference? Are they not suffering from that too? They absolutely are," Zuckerberg said.
In his estimation, the CEO believes that breaking up Facebook would leave it, and whatever companies spawn from its breakup, less equipped to handle the threats they face.
"So it's not the case that if you broke up Facebook into a bunch of pieces you suddenly wouldn't have those issues. You would have those issues — you would just be much less equipped to deal with them."
Instead, Zuckerberg believes uniform government regulation should be enacted to maintain election integrity across all of the internet. He also believes Congress should enact rules that would better govern free speech on social platforms, as well as deal with privacy and user data questions.
Facebook and innovation
Zuckerberg also addressed criticisms that Facebook has stifled competition in the social media space by acquiring or crushing its competitors. And while he never mentioned Facebook's ongoing campaign to take down Snapchat by mimicking its services on Instagram, the CEO did detail why he believes Instagram and WhatsApp are better off now that Facebook purchased them than before.
Zuckerberg explained that when the company first acquired Instagram it still hadn't launched an Android app, had an ongoing spam issue, and only employed 13 people. Since then, the photo-sharing app has grown to be one of the most important social networks in the world, and has made "influencers" more than simply salespeople, he noted.
In her proposal, Warren explicitly states that Facebook would be broken apart from both WhatsApp and Instagram. Doing so, she explains, would give Facebook a greater amount of competition and feed innovation in the social media space.
Zuckerberg, meanwhile, explained that while he understands that some mergers can hinder innovation, he believes regulators should be careful when looking at something like Facebook.
"Yes, some mergers can be bad for innovation. These weren't," Zuckerberg said. "And I think it would be very hard to make the case that any kind of innovation or kind of competition in the broader ecosystem was decreased because of the work and the innovation that we've brought to bear on this."
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