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Facebook VP Nick Clegg responds to co-founder Hughes' call for breakup

In a New York Times editorial, the social network's VP for global affairs and communications says stronger oversight is needed, not a dismantling of the company.

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"Big in itself isn't bad," says Facebook VP Nick Clegg.
James Martin/CNET

Facebook shouldn't be broken up; instead it should be subject to robust new regulations. That's how the world's largest social network is responding to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes' call for the company to be pulled apart.

Hughes made his case Thursday in a front-page editorial in The New York Times, saying that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has too much power and that the company has become a monopoly.

Now the social network's VP for global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg, has responded with his own op-ed in the Times.

"Mr. Hughes is right that companies should be held accountable for their actions," Clegg says in the Saturday editorial. "But the challenges he alludes to, including election interference and privacy safeguards, won't evaporate by breaking up Facebook or any other big tech company. Fixing these problems requires significant resources -- and strong new rules."

The back-and-forth opinion pieces come as Facebook is being called out by critics for not doing enough to combat election meddling, misinformation and hate speech. The company's enormous power, critics argue, needs to be kept in check.

The social network has also been attacked by those who say the company simply scooped up its competition, rather than innovated to meet the challenges posed by rivals. Facebook's rapid growth has been fueled by acquisitions, including its purchases of photo-sharing site Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, critics say.

Clegg says Facebook has been pushing for greater oversight of social media and other tech companies. He notes Zuckerberg's trip to France this week to speak with the government about potential legislation, and he brings up the same talking points mentioned by Zuckerberg in a Washington Post editorial at the end of March.

In that piece, Zuckerberg called for "a more active role for governments and regulators" and focused on policing harmful content, protecting election integrity, ensuring data privacy and allowing consumers to easily move their data from one service to another.

Clegg says critics of Facebook's size have it wrong. Though the company is big, he says, it's made up of smaller units, each of which faces plenty of competition. Rivals in photo and video-sharing, for instance, include Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube, he says.

"Globally, the context in which social media must be understood, China alone has several large social media companies, including powerhouses like Tencent and Sina," Clegg writes. "It will seem perverse to people in Europe, and certainly in China, to see American policymakers talking about dismantling one of America's biggest global players."

Clegg also says that because Facebook is big, it can put a lot of resources into policing its various platforms. And he says that antitrust laws aren't about punishing management; they're about protecting consumers by giving them access to innovative and inexpensive products.

The main purpose of such laws, he writes, "is to protect consumers by ensuring they have access to low-cost, high-quality products and services. And especially in the case of technology, rapid innovation. That is exactly where Facebook puts its attention: building the best products, free for consumers, and funded by advertisers."

"Big in itself isn't bad," Clegg says. "Success should not be penalized. Our success has given billions of people around the globe access to new ways of communicating with one another. Earning money from ads means we can provide those tools to people for free. Facebook shouldn't be broken up -- but it does need to be held to account."

CNET's Queenie Wong contributed to this report.