With calls for breaking up Facebook now winning support from multiple 2020 presidential candidates, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, it’s getting hard for the social media giant’s leadership to hide from the growing chorus of voices throwing their weight behind the cause.
Mark Zuckerberg was asked to answer for his company’s unprecedented power this month during a trip to France, and in a sweeping interview with CNBC on Friday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also touched on the topic.
“You could break us up, you could break other tech companies up, but you actually don’t address the underlying issues people are concerned about,” Sandberg said. “They’re concerned about election security, they’re concerned about content. They’re concerned about privacy and data portability. We know at Facebook that we have a real responsibility to do better, and to earn back people’s trust.”
I, for one, am shocked—shocked, I tell you!—that Sandberg does not agree that Facebook should forfeit some of its unfathomable control.
The points she listed are, of course, things that people certainly are concerned about. However, in a curious and seemingly half-baked rationale for why Facebook should not be broken up, Sandberg pointed to a “concern” in the U.S. over rival Chinese tech companies that won’t face the same intervention. And while Sandberg did also note that the company is pouring billions into its rebranding as a company that cares about privacy now, her delivery on what Facebook’s leadership has evidently landed on as their best counterargument was considerably less convincing than that of the company’s CEO recently.
Speaking to France Info last week about a blistering New York Times op-ed from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Zuckerberg said he thinks breaking up the company “isn’t going to do anything to help solve” the biggest problems facing Facebook. He added that “if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference.”
Many of the issues facing Facebook arise almost exclusively because it exists, be it election interference, misinformation, or privacy and data scandals such as the recent WhatsApp attack. So arguing that the company must keep its iron grip on the power it enjoys but has yet to demonstrate it can actually handle—and indeed, that this is the only way it can truly protect its users—is absurd.