Chris Hughes hasn't seen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in-person since the summer of 2017, when Hughes, a fellow Facebook co-founder, hung out with Zuck at the latter's Menlo Park home.
For an hour or two, they talked about politics, Facebook and family. And when it got too late, Hughes bid Zuckerberg farewell and hugged his wife Priscilla goodbye.
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Not only has he not seen the chief executive of the big, beleaguered social network since then. But Facebook's corporate reputation has tanked to an all-new low since that last encounter. Tough new regulation also looks increasingly likely. And on the heels of Zuckerberg announcing a new plan to knit Facebook's myriad services including Instagram together into a more cohesive whole, Hughes penned an op-ed in the New York Times that makes a forceful plea: It's time to break this company up, Hughes argues.
And not only that, but the opinion piece published Thursday also tries to make the case that Zuckerberg himself has way too much power. "I feel a sense of anger and responsibility," writes Hughes, who co-founded the social network at Harvard with Zuckerberg.
"Mark is a good, kind person," Hughes writes. "But I'm angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I'm disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders."
The government must hold Zuckerberg accountable, the piece continues.
The timing of this comes at a watershed moment for the company, which Zuckerberg wants to steer toward a less-public future that's focused on more private communication between users. Which is one reason he's pushing to blend the technology that underpins its three main messaging services, including Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. At the same time, an FTC fine levied against Facebook that could be as high as $5 billion could be coming down the pike soon.
The full opinion piece is definitely worth a read, if for no other reason than Hughes' once-close relationship with Zuckerberg and his role in the early Facebook story. Among the other calls he makes - Facebook should never have been allowed to acquire Instagram, which, again, is remarkable coming from a Facebook co-founder.
"Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability," Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg said in response to the piece. "But you don't enforce accountability by calling for the break up of a successful American company. Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet. That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for. Indeed, he is meeting government leaders this week to further that work."
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