Break up Facebook?

Facebook's co-founder: it's time to break up the social media giant

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Is it time to break up Facebook?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Facebook seems to be the king of social media, but there are arguments that some of its powers should be taken from the throne.

One of its co-founders, Chris Hughes, argues it is time to break up Facebook, saying the US government can fix it.

However, Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president for global affairs and communications, says that "big isn't bad, and success should not be penalised".

The Claim

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has penned an op-ed in the New York Times, saying it is time to break up Facebook.

He says that Mark Zuckerberg's influence is "staggering" with just one person controlling three platforms - Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - that billions of people use every day. The Facebook CEO's influence is "far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government".

Hughes argues that the American government needs to do two things to put some check on Zuckerberg's power: "Break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people."

He suggests separating Facebook into multiple companies, enforcing anti-trust laws, undoing the acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, and banning future acquisitions for several years.

Hughes explains: "The cost of breaking up Facebook would be next to zero for the government, and lots of people stand to gain economically.

"A ban on short-term acquisitions would ensure that competitors, and the investors who take a bet on them, would have the space to flourish. Digital advertisers would suddenly have multiple companies vying for their dollars."

He concludes: "Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can."

The Counterclaim

However, Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications, responded to Hughes' op-ed, arguing that breaking up Facebook is not the answer.

He says that the challenges that Hughes addresses, including election interference and privacy safeguards, will not evaporate by breaking up Facebook.

Clegg explains that the first misunderstanding is that Facebook is a monopoly. The former British deputy prime minister argues: "We are a large company made up of many smaller pieces. All of our products and services fight for customers.

"Each one has at least three or four competitors with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users."

Facebook competes with YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter in photo and video-sharing, and in messaging, Clegg says the company is not even the leader in the top three markets - China, Japan and even the United States.

He concludes that big isn't bad, and success should not be penalised. Clegg adds: "Facebook shouldn’t be broken up - but it does need to be held to account.

"Anyone worried about the challenges we face in an online world should look at getting the rules of the internet right, not dismantling successful American companies."

The Facts

Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world. There are over 2.38 billion users who log in to Facebook every month.

Five new profiles are created every second, and Facebook users upload 300 million photos per day. Every minute, 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded, according to Zephoria.

World domination on one platform was not enough for Facebook. They added Instagram and WhatsApp to their collection, building a monopoly of social media platforms.

They bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, only two years after the photo-sharing app's launch. At the time, Instagram had just 30 million users and zero revenue. Fast forward to today, and it has over one billion users worldwide - and it will soon be a multi-billion dollar ad business.

WhatsApp reached 1.5 billion users last year, who send 60 billion messages per day. When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, it had just 450 million monthly active users.

Around 70 per cent of American adults use social media - with the vast majority using platforms owned by Facebook. Over two-thirds use Facebook, a third use Instagram, and a fifth use WhatsApp.

The average Facebook user spends an hour a day on the platform, while Instagram users spend 53 minutes a day scrolling through pictures and videos.

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