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Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is upset that the social media platform didn’t do more to stop the rise of Donald Trump, and he’s calling for the company to be broken up and regulated in hopes of preventing a repeat of the 2016 election.
Hughes’s main regret is not that his former company censors the Right—it’s that Facebook didn’t start aggressively targeting conservatives long ago.
Big Tech’s increasing willingness to silence voices from the Right, makes Hughes’s recent New York Times op-ed interesting. His article is a complex mass of ideas, personal reminiscences, and proposed solutions, but his core argument can be reduced to two main points.
The first point is out in the open; it’s basically the thesis of the article: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, other social media giants—and, by extension, the Silicon Valley monopolies in general—have an unbelievable amount of power over our lives and our public discourse.
Hughes is absolutely correct on that point. Big Tech companies—Facebook, Google, and Twitter being the most prominent—have more control over the information that reaches the public than any entity since the advent of mass media.
Social media is the modern public square. The power to censor social media is the power to shape ideas. The power to “deplatform” dissidents from social media is the power to silence their voices.
Hughes didn’t much care about any of that until he realized that free speech online helped Donald Trump become president of the United States.
It’s no secret that social media was a driving force behind the Trump movement. American nationalists, populists, and conservatives were able to circumvent a mainstream media—not to mention a political establishment—that hated them.
With minimal censorship, we won the war of ideas on social media, then we won the primaries, and then we put Donald Trump in the White House. President Trump equally leveraged the freedom of direct mass communications to direct the movement as our new leader.
That is what so concerns the people who have spent the past three years offering outlandish excuses for Trump’s victory, such as Russian Facebook ads and bogus Twitter accounts.
Hughes differs from his former colleagues, however, in the way he interprets the Trump phenomenon. Whereas Facebook has sought to consolidate its power and use it to squelch conservative voices, Hughes is proposing that the company should be broken up into smaller pieces because conservatives have succeeded in using the platform to amplify their voices.
“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,” Hughes writes, adding later in the article that “It took the 2016 election fallout and Cambridge Analytica to awaken me to the dangers of Facebook’s monopoly.”
Hughes’s choice of words, especially given President Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of the “nationalist” moniker, makes it perfectly clear who and what he’s talking about. Hughes seems to have concluded that something must be done to prevent a repeat of the 2016 election, even if it means breaking up the company he helped found.
Photo Credit: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images