The U.S. government shouldn’t break up Facebook because that wouldn’t address the real problems that people face in the age of social media, according to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, a man who is currently worth an estimated $US71.5 billion ($102 billion) precisely because the social media company is so large.
Zuckerberg appeared at the Aspen Ideas Festival Thursday for an interview with Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein where he laid out his case against the politicians like Elizabeth Warren who say that tech giants like Facebook are too big. Sunstein mentioned to Zuckerberg that one of the Facebook founder’s friends had recently called for the company to be broken up into multiple entities, but Zuck wasn’t having it.
“I don’t agree with that one,” Zuckerberg said to laughs in the crowd.
“Look, I think there are major social issues, right?” Zuck continued. “I think that election integrity is a really critical one, removing harmful content and managing that is important, we talked about that. Privacy is important, and of course ensuring innovation and competition and research is important too.”
“The question that I think we have to grapple with is that breaking up these companies wouldn’t make any of those problems better,” Zuckerberg said. “Right? So the ability to work on election or content systems… We have an ability, now because we’re a successful company and we’re large, to be able to go build the systems that I think are unprecedented.”
“The systems, in many cases, are more sophisticated than any one a lot of governments have,” Zuckerberg continued, without explaining precisely what he meant by that. “And we can build that once, and we can have it apply to Facebook, and Instagram, and WhatsApp, and Messenger.”
The only problem with Zuckerberg’s argument?
Facebook is pretty bad at deploying systems that help solve today’s problems. The only thing Facebook seems to be good at is creating public relations events that make it look like it’s doing something.
And it’s a lot easier to set up a “War Room” with people staring at screens than it is to actually address things like election interference by foreign governments. Especially when you don’t even let journalists talk to anyone in your so-called war room.
“I can get why saying that you want to break up the companies feels nice, right?” Zuckerberg said later. “It’s like there are issues… let’s just take a big hammer and go do it, but I just think the reality is that we want to be…. we want to make sure the things that we do actually address the problems.”
Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s gobbling up of competitor services like Instagram and WhatsApp, arguing that his acquisitions have actually increased competition. Facebook bought Instagram for $US1 billion ($1.4 billion) in 2012 and WhatsApp for $US19 billion ($27 billion) in 2014.
“Yes, some mergers can be bad for innovation. These weren’t,” Zuckerberg said while discussing his acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp specifically. “I think, it would be very hard to make the case that any kind of innovation or competition in the broader ecosystem was decreased because of the work and the innovation that we’ve brought to bear on this.”
The entire conversation from the Aspen Ideas Festival is available on YouTube.
But if that sounds too boring for you, allow me to suggest another Zuckerberg video that’s much more interesting.