Dispute over Zuckerberg’s ‘unchecked power’ continues amid calls to dismantle the company

Posted at 7:21 PM, May 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-12 19:21:11-04

(CNN) — Facebook is pushing back against growing calls to break up the tech giant.

“Chopping a great American success story into bits” won’t stop foreign election interference or “poison” spreading online, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications, told CNN Business’ Brian Stelter Sunday in his first US television interview since he joined the company last year.

“We need to do more,” Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, said on “Reliable Sources.” But those problems “won’t suddenly evaporate. There will still be Russian trolls.”

Clegg’s counter comes after Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes wrote a lengthy opinion piece last week urging regulators to dismantle the company.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has “unchecked power” and influence “far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” Hughes said. “Mark is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.”

Since Hughes’ op-ed, criticism of Facebook has intensified. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for president, said on Twitter, “Chris Hughes is right. Today’s big tech companies have too much power.”

On Sunday, Senator Kamala Harris said “We need to seriously take a look” at breaking up Facebook. “It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview.

There are also growing calls in Europe to break up what many have come to see as a social media monopoly.

Clegg, who also penned an op-ed for the New York Times on Sunday, said that Facebook needed to strengthen its data protection and privacy policies and bore a “heavy responsibility” in preventing election meddling on its platform. But “I don’t think dismantling companies altogether is the way to deal with some of the complex issues which [Hughes] quite rightly highlighted,” he said.

“Of course, Facebook needs to do more,” he said. “We are confident we are going to be considerably better prepared— for instance— for the 2020 US elections than we were for 2016.”

Instead of breaking up Facebook, lawmakers and regulators around the globe need to work alongside the company to come up with “new rules of the internet,” Clegg said.

Zuckerberg in March wrote on op-ed in which he called for regulators to play a “more active role” in establishing rules for the internet.

“This is not something that any company can do on its own,” Clegg said. “We’re dealing with some very profound ethical and political issues.”