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More politicians side with Facebook co-founder on breaking up company

The momentum has grown since Chris Hughes published an op-ed in The New York Times.

Chris Hughes
Chris Hughes' op-ed may have been a battle cry. 
The India Today Group/Getty Images

Politicians are responding to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes'  op-ed that argues the social media giant should be broken up.

"FB has become too big and too powerful, and it's part of a trend in our economy of an increasing concentration of corporate power," Hughes said in a tweet promoting his May 9 New York Times op-ed. "We can fix this: break the company up and regulate it." Hughes left Facebook in 2007.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that the social media site has prioritized growth over its users. Harris said few people can get by without using Facebook in their daily lives, Reuters reported.

"I think we have to seriously take a look at that [breaking up Facebook], yes," she told Tapper. "So we have to recognize it for what it is. It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated."  

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another Democratic 2020 presidential candidate, voiced her support for Hughes on Twitter. Warren has been outspoken about busting up big tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, in favor of smaller businesses.

"Chris Hughes is right. Today's big tech companies have too much power -- over our economy, our society, & our democracy. They've bulldozed competition, used our private info for profit, hurt small businesses & stifled innovation. It's time to #BreakUpBigTech," Warren tweeted.

Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren supports a breakup.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, praised Hughes' essay in a tweet and agreed that Facebook shouldn't have acquired WhatsApp and Instagram in 2012.

"I believe the way forward is to heavily scrutinize future mergers and to ensure no company has anti-competitive platform privileges," Khanna tweeted. "The history of the Valley is the giants of the past -- AOL, Yahoo, Cisco, even Microsoft --make way for the giants of the future. We need well-crafted regulation to ensure that continues."

In his essay, Hughes said the Federal Trade Commission made a mistake in permitting Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, echoed Hughes' statement in an interview with CNBC on Thursday. Blumenthal said the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp needed to be "unwound" and the Department of Justice should look into appropriate antitrust remedies.

"And let's remember, being big is not illegal. It's the misuse of that bigness and market dominance such as Facebook has been doing by acquiring innovative companies before they can really reach maturity and also copying new technologies so as to stifle competition and innovation," Blumenthal said in the interview.

Hughes said at the time of their acquisitions, neither Instagram nor WhatsApp was generating meaningful revenue, but they were popular.

But Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook-owned Instagram, tweeted back at Hughes, "Regulation is important and necessary, but I'm not convinced breaking us up is the right path."


Instagram head Adam Mosseri said he's open to a discussion with Hughes. 

James Martin / CNET

Longtime tech columnist Walt Mossberg also tweeted his support.

"I agree wholeheartedly with this blunt, smart [New York Times] op-ed by [Facebook] co-founder Chris Hughes calling for breaking up that huge, cancerous company AND regulating the remaining entities under a tough new federal privacy law," Mossberg said.

Responding to Hughes' essay, Facebook said it accepts that success comes with accountability.

"You don't enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company," Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs and communications, said in a statement. "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."

In an interview with French broadcaster France 2, Zuckerberg responded to Hughes' essay, CNBC reported Saturday. The Facebook CEO said the social media site's size is actually beneficial to its users and the security of democracy. 

Ayman Hariri, CEO and founder of Vero, said his social media site provides an alternative to Facebook. Vero describes itself as an ad-free, algorithm-free social media platform that doesn't (and says it never will) mine user data.

"Departing from what has been the status quo for such a long time is incredibly difficult, but there are meaningful alternatives. Individuals have to make the choice for themselves to join an honest platform that places power in the hands of users," Hariri said in an emailed statement.

Originally published May 9.
Update, May 13: Added comments from Kamala Harris and Mark Zuckerberg.