Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Calls For Facebook's Breakup… But Seems Confused About All The Details

from the details-matter dept

Lots of folks are talking about a new opinion piece in the New York Times by Chris Hughes, one of the small group of college buddies of Mark Zuckerberg who are often called “co-founders” of the company. Hughes left pretty early, and has dabbled (unsuccessfully) in politics and (unsuccessfully) in media. The key point of the opinion piece is obvious from the title: It’s Time to Break Up Facebook.

It is absolutely worth reading and thinking about. It’s also does not make a very compelling argument. It does seem to have people who already think Facebook should be broken up declaring that it’s a compelling argument, but that’s because it’s confirming their prior feelings, not because of anything in the article. To be clear: I’m actually on the fence about the idea of breaking up Facebook. I’ve previously discussed why I think Elizabeth Warren’s plans to break up all of the big internet companies don’t make sense, but as a short version, my main issue is that I’m not sure any of these plans actually solve the problems people think they will solve (for a debate on this, listen to my podcast with Cory Doctorow where he and I disagreed over this point).

Facebook’s value comes from the fact that it’s a global service in which everyone can reach everyone. So, you couldn’t break up “Facebook” in a way that separates the company into, say, geographic regions or that limits the overall reach of the company. Instead, most of the focus is on splitting off some of its big acquisitions, mainly Instagram and Whatsapp, to create “competing” social media and messaging platforms. Again, I’m not totally against this idea — it’s the cleanest possible setup and at the very least would create some greater competition — but I’m not convinced that it actually solves any of the “problems” people are really concerned about, such as the company’s sucking up lots of data on everyone and (sometimes) exposing some of that data to those who shouldn’t have it. It is possible that a broken up Facebook faces more competitive pressure to be a better actor in the space, but I’m not really sure how true that is. For all the claims of people being concerned about privacy, their own actions don’t show that in practice. If people were truly concerned about these issues, we’d see more movement to other kinds of platforms, but we haven’t yet seen that.

So, I’m not convinced that cleaving off Instagram and Whatsapp would necessarily be bad, but I’m equally confused as to how it would actually help deal with any of the concerns people normally raise.

That’s my bias. Now, let’s dig into Hughes’ piece.

Mark?s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms ? Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp ? that billions of people use every day. Facebook?s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook?s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.

This opening is the most compelling argument in the piece. Perhaps by controlling all three of those platforms, Zuckerberg does have too much power over the internet as a whole. But, again, I’m not convinced that splitting up those companies truly changes things in any significant way. There are, already, plenty of competitors to Whatsapp. And Whatsapp already offers end-to-end encryption, so the “privacy” concerns people usually scream about aren’t nearly as present with that platform. There are (reasonable) concerns about the spread of disinformation on Whatsapp, but that seems to have little to nothing to do with Facebook’s dominance and power. Before everyone was screaming about disinformation on Whatsapp, they were doing the same about Telegram, a program not owned by Facebook.

Mark is a good, kind person. But I?m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. 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. And I?m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them.

Again, that’s a valid criticism of Zuckerberg and his top execs, but it’s unclear how breaking up the company solves any of that. The “influencing elections” and “empowering nationalist leaders” aspect doesn’t rely on the fact that Facebook owns three separate platforms. It is based on the reach of those platforms — which wouldn’t be broken up via antitrust anyway. And, of course, there are lots of other platforms with global reach as well. So, breaking up Facebook doesn’t… actually… change any of the things Hughes says he’s concerned about.

The government must hold Mark accountable. For too long, lawmakers have marveled at Facebook?s explosive growth and overlooked their responsibility to ensure that Americans are protected and markets are competitive.

Accountable for what? For reflecting the fact that there are awful people in society? And that those people will abuse systems for power? It’s a cheap shot to blame Facebook for awful people. And Facebook’s “responsibility” is not to make sure people are “protected” (whatever that means) or that “markets are competitive.” We may value both of those things (and we should), but if you think they’re somehow Facebook’s responsibility, then that leads to a much larger discussion about fiduciary responsibility and how public companies are measured and valued. That may actually be a really important and relevant discussion, but it’s an entirely separate discussion from whether or not Facebook should be broken up.

Sense a pattern here? Hughes is certainly highlighting some societal issues that have been exposed and arguably exacerbated by Facebook. But he fails to explain how breaking up the company actually tackles those problems. It’s the same old “we must do something, this is something, we will do it!” kind of argumentation that gets us into trouble so often.

After Mark?s congressional testimony last year, there should have been calls for him to truly reckon with his mistakes. Instead the legislators who questioned him were derided as too old and out of touch to understand how tech works. That?s the impression Mark wanted Americans to have, because it means little will change.

Again, Hughes is pointing fingers in semi-random places. Is it Facebook’s fault that Congress didn’t bother to educate itself or figure out how to ask good questions? If that’s the problem, then (again!) the solution has little to do with breaking up Facebook, but reforming the political system or (at the very least) how Congress is educated on tech issues.

We are a nation with a tradition of reining in monopolies, no matter how well intentioned the leaders of these companies may be. Mark?s power is unprecedented and un-American.

It is time to break up Facebook.

I’d argue that this kind of power is both extremely precedented and extremely American, but fair enough. What’s still lacking is how “breaking up Facebook” actually solves any of the problems.

America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. That?s why the founders created a system of checks and balances. They didn?t need to foresee the rise of Facebook to understand the threat that gargantuan companies would pose to democracy. Jefferson and Madison were voracious readers of Adam Smith, who believed that monopolies prevent the competition that spurs innovation and leads to economic growth.

America also has a long, long history of having tremendous power concentrated in just a few people. Sometimes those companies get broken up by antitrust, and sometimes they don’t. I also agree that monopolies can be quite dangerous and am all for the proper application of antitrust to break up abusive monopolies. But this opinion piece does little to reckon with the larger question: is the problem Facebook or is the problem humanity, when connected. It points to the latter and assumes the former. But if the problem is humanity, then that’s a different discussion, and one that is not solved by breaking up Facebook.

A century later, in response to the rise of the oil, railroad and banking trusts of the Gilded Age, the Ohio Republican John Sherman said on the floor of Congress: ?If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life. If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.? The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 outlawed monopolies. More legislation followed in the 20th century, creating legal and regulatory structures to promote competition and hold the biggest companies accountable. The Department of Justice broke up monopolies like Standard Oil and AT&T.

This is all true and something that many in the “break up Facebook” crowd like to repeat, but they fail to recognize that Facebook is a very, very different kind of beast. It’s not price-fixing. It’s not a monopoly in the sense of Standard Oil or AT&T (the latter of which had a literal monopoly in that there were no other phone companies). On the internet, there are lots of other players. And while it’s true that Facebook has bought up a few competitors, there remain many more. And it’s quite easy for many more to pop up as well. Indeed, the continual beating that Facebook has received over the past few years seems to be inspiring a bunch of new competitors seeking to provide better solutions.

Starting in the 1970s, a small but dedicated group of economists, lawyers and policymakers sowed the seeds of our cynicism. Over the next 40 years, they financed a network of think tanks, journals, social clubs, academic centers and media outlets to teach an emerging generation that private interests should take precedence over public ones. Their gospel was simple: ?Free? markets are dynamic and productive, while government is bureaucratic and ineffective. By the mid-1980s, they had largely managed to relegate energetic antitrust enforcement to the history books.

This shift, combined with business-friendly tax and regulatory policy, ushered in a period of mergers and acquisitions that created megacorporations. In the past 20 years, more than 75 percent of American industries, from airlines to pharmaceuticals, have experienced increased concentration, and the average size of public companies has tripled. The results are a decline in entrepreneurship, stalled productivity growth, and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

So, uh, just to be clear, the two industries he directly cites as evidence of the “gospel” of free markets–airlines and pharmaceuticals–are two of the most heavily regulated industries in existence. Neither are anything even remotely like a free market. And, at least in the airline space, the elements of deregulation that have occurred have in fact created significant competition in the market, including much lower airfare than what was there before. I do think there are arguments that crony capitalism, regulatory capture, bad intellectual property laws and more have contributed to the concentration of megacorps, but it’s difficult to argue with a straight face that it’s “free markets” that are the problem here. Also, the “higher prices” argument doesn’t exactly apply to free social media services, now does it?

The same thing is happening in social media and digital communications. Because Facebook so dominates social networking, it faces no market-based accountability. This means that every time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern: first outrage, then disappointment and, finally, resignation.

“The same thing” being higher prices? Again, the services are free to users. And the price of advertising keeps going down and down. Not up. And, yes, the outrage over Facebook’s regular fuck-ups don’t seem to lead to a grand exodus, but that might have more to do with the fact that most people aren’t as concerned about the impact of those fuck-ups as the media and politicians are.

Facebook?s dominance is not an accident of history. The company?s strategy was to beat every competitor in plain view, and regulators and the government tacitly ? and at times explicitly ? approved. In one of the government?s few attempts to rein in the company, the F.T.C. in 2011 issued a consent decree that Facebook not share any private information beyond what users already agreed to. Facebook largely ignored the decree. Last month, the day after the company predicted in an earnings call that it would need to pay up to $5 billion as a penalty for its negligence ? a slap on the wrist ? Facebook?s shares surged 7 percent, adding $30 billion to its value, six times the size of the fine.

Ignoring the consent decree is a real problem. But how does breaking up Facebook change that? How does it make the company any more likely to abide by the FTC’s rules?

For the next part, let me pull together two separate paragraphs that are a few paragraphs apart in Hughes’ piece, but should be read together:

It was this drive to compete that led Mark to acquire, over the years, dozens of other companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014. There was nothing unethical or suspicious, in my view, in these moves.


The F.T.C.?s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. In 2012, the newer platforms were nipping at Facebook?s heels because they had been built for the smartphone, where Facebook was still struggling to gain traction. Mark responded by buying them, and the F.T.C. approved.

The moves were not unethical or suspicious… and yet the FTC made a big mistake by not blocking them? I’ve argued elsewhere that Zuckerberg’s internalization of Clayton Christensen’s concept of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” is what caused him to effectively overpay for both Instagram and Whatsapp, recognizing that rapidly growing competitors could present the kind of disruptive innovation that would undermine Facebook in the first place. The fact that he mostly let those companies run independently (until recently) seems to confirm that.

And that leaves us again wondering if the critique here is of Facebook, or the nature of technological change and innovation? If we want to establish as a policy goal that new disruptors always kill off older companies, that’s one view that perhaps makes sense, but might also lead to other troubling consequences and should be carefully considered. If the new position is that Facebook (and Google and Amazon and Apple) should never be allowed to acquire startups, there are deeper impacts to the competitive ecosystem. For example, that makes it that much more difficult for startups to exit, which means it will be more difficult for them to raise money in the first place. In other words, if the policy is to stop large internet companies from acquiring small ones to increase competition, it might actually decrease competition by shutting off the market for capital funds to make those companies viable in the first place.

None of this is to say that we should just let Facebook continue on its merry way. I get that the company is quite powerful and in a position to fuck up lots of stuff (which it regularly seems to do). But a remedy for the sake of a remedy, without any understanding of the wider impact, is bound to cause problems.

When it hasn?t acquired its way to dominance, Facebook has used its monopoly position to shut out competing companies or has copied their technology.

The News Feed algorithm reportedly prioritized videos created through Facebook over videos from competitors, like YouTube and Vimeo. In 2012, Twitter introduced a video network called Vine that featured six-second videos. That same day, Facebook blocked Vine from hosting a tool that let its users search for their Facebook friends while on the new network. The decision hobbled Vine, which shut down four years later.

And yet YouTube still dominates the video side, and Vimeo still appears to be going strong. Yes, Facebook’s practices concerning video have been obnoxious, but for whatever “market power” it supposedly has, it didn’t work against YouTube.

Snapchat posed a different threat. Snapchat?s Stories and impermanent messaging options made it an attractive alternative to Facebook and Instagram. And unlike Vine, Snapchat wasn?t interfacing with the Facebook ecosystem; there was no obvious way to handicap the company or shut it out. So Facebook simply copied it.

So, um, competition worked?

(There is little regulators can do about this tactic: Snapchat patented its ?ephemeral message galleries,? but copyright law does not extend to the abstract concept itself.)

It is difficult to take anyone seriously when they confuse patents and copyright.

As markets become more concentrated, the number of new start-up businesses declines. This holds true in other high-tech areas dominated by single companies, like search (controlled by Google) and e-commerce (taken over by Amazon). Meanwhile, there has been plenty of innovation in areas where there is no monopolistic domination, such as in workplace productivity (Slack, Trello, Asana), urban transportation (Lyft, Uber, Lime, Bird) and cryptocurrency exchanges (Ripple, Coinbase, Circle).

This seems like a very simplistic view of the market. There have been a bunch of new entrants in e-commerce and search (and even in parts of social media). Not all have been successful, but direct competition is never going to excite investors in the first place. It’s always the indirect competitors who represent the true disruption. The newer markets have more competition for now because they haven’t shaken out yet, but it seems likely that they will also over time.

Facebook?s business model is built on capturing as much of our attention as possible to encourage people to create and share more information about who they are and who they want to be. We pay for Facebook with our data and our attention, and by either measure it doesn?t come cheap.

And, again, splitting off Instagram and Whatsapp don’t change that one bit. If you want to force Facebook to change its business model that is, again, a different discussion.

The vibrant marketplace that once drove Facebook and other social media companies to compete to come up with better products has virtually disappeared.

I literally had a phone call this morning with a company looking to “disrupt” Facebook with a totally different approach. Just because Chris Hughes doesn’t know these companies exist doesn’t mean they don’t.

The most problematic aspect of Facebook?s power is Mark?s unilateral control over speech. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.

Facebook engineers write algorithms that select which users? comments or experiences end up displayed in the News Feeds of friends and family. These rules are proprietary and so complex that many Facebook employees themselves don?t understand them.

I’m going to sound like a broken record (for those of you young enough to remember what that means) but how does breaking up Facebook solve this?

How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares.

How does that solve any of the problems Hughes outlined above?

But the biggest winners would be the American people. Imagine a competitive market in which they could choose among one network that offered higher privacy standards, another that cost a fee to join but had little advertising and another that would allow users to customize and tweak their feeds as they saw fit. No one knows exactly what Facebook?s competitors would offer to differentiate themselves. That?s exactly the point.

I’ve said many times in the past that I agree that more competition is valuable, but merely breaking up a bunch of big, centralized platforms doesn’t seem likely to offer that kind of solution. This is why I’ve long advocated a solution that focuses on moving to protocols instead of platforms as a way to truly “break up” big tech. Merely separating Facebook out into Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp doesn’t solve most of the problems discussed above. People will still be locked into those proprietary, centralized platforms if they want to communicate with others on those platforms.

Moving to a world of protocols, in which you could move away from Facebook but still have access to the content and people who stayed on Facebook is the real solution. It removes the lock-in that is the true issue of dominance. And, unless antitrust somehow forces that to happen, a separate Instagram doesn’t solve any of these issues.

Just breaking up Facebook is not enough. We need a new agency, empowered by Congress to regulate tech companies. Its first mandate should be to protect privacy.

The Europeans have made headway on privacy with the General Data Protection Regulation, a law that guarantees users a minimal level of protection. A landmark privacy bill in the United States should specify exactly what control Americans have over their digital information, require clearer disclosure to users and provide enough flexibility to the agency to exercise effective oversight over time.

This is one of those “feel good” ideas that again requires actual details to understand. So far, remember, all the GDPR has done to date is concentrate the power of Facebook and Google, rather than diminish it.

The agency should also be charged with guaranteeing basic interoperability across platforms.

Hey, one thing I agree with! Though, it’s not clear why you should need an agency to enforce interoperability. Ideally we’d start moving to a world where interoperability on top of an open API is table stakes to play in the internet social media space.

Finally, the agency should create guidelines for acceptable speech on social media. This idea may seem un-American ? we would never stand for a government agency censoring speech. But we already have limits on yelling ?fire? in a crowded theater, child pornography, speech intended to provoke violence and false statements to manipulate stock prices.

Oh come on. We’ve spent years (decades?!) pointing out that the whole “fire in a crowded theater” line is bullshit. It is not the law, and is based on a throwaway comment from a case long since surpassed by other rulings, and was used to jail someone who was speaking out to protest the military draft. Pulling out that line here is just crazy.

We will have to create similar standards that tech companies can use. These standards should of course be subject to the review of the courts, just as any other limits on speech are. But there is no constitutional right to harass others or live-stream violence.

Hughes’ understanding of what the Constitution does and does not allow is not in sync with what the Constitution actually does and does not allow.

This movement of public servants, scholars and activists deserves our support. Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can.

The amount of faith Hughes puts in our currently dysfunctional government is kind of shocking.

There’s a lot more in Hughes’ piece, but this is already long enough. Once again: even if you believe that Facebook is evil, you need to actually make the case for specifically what the problems are (is it disinformation? is it privacy? is it productivity? is it security? is it democracy?) and recognize that fixing one of those might make others worse (i.e., increasing privacy via encryption can increase the spread of disinformation by making it harder for companies to monitor content). And then you need to explain how these solutions (cleaving off Instagram and Whatsapp) actually solve the specific problems you’ve laid out.

Despite everything here, I’m very open to someone laying out an actual case of how antitrust would solve specific problems. My concern is that no one has yet done so. And Hughes definitely does not do so here. There’s a lot of handwaving highlighting many very real problems (though some of those problems appear to be with the nature of Wall Street, fiduciary duty, human nature and the like), more handwaving about the fact that Facebook is very big (mostly ignoring that there is real competition from other big internet companies, and some smaller ones to boot) and then saying we need to break up the companies, and heavily regulate them, to fix these things… without ever explaining how the last part deals with the first.

There may well be a good case for breaking up Facebook. Chris Hughes, however, did not make it.

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Comments on “Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Calls For Facebook's Breakup… But Seems Confused About All The Details”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook like several other major internet companies does not operate in the clear.

The users, as they are call, are not there to receive a service but are the raw input to a massive surveillance system whose real command and control functions are not public knowledge. No one knows to whom data is supplied nor does any know what the objective of the data massage is or how they are being controlled.

mephistophocles (profile) says:

Re: Super Friends

…and Zuckerberg isn’t powerful. I know you millenials all clutch your smartphones in horror whenever anyone whispers it, but there’s a real easy solution here. Ready? Don’t use Facebook.

It and every other "social media" platform is only relevant as long as it has users. Leave, and manage to scrape by without it like every single other human being did quite happily until a few years ago (and a few of us still do), and the whole debacle becomes pretty damned silly.

The WORST solution here is a government breakup. We don’t need one. Just delete your account. Don’t give govt the power to destroy things you’re too weak to give up on your own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Make it a federated service

Facebook’s value comes from the fact that it’s a global service in which everyone can reach everyone. So, you couldn’t break up "Facebook" in a way that separates the company into, say, geographic regions or that limits the overall reach of the company.

Are you saying it wouldn’t be possible to federate Facebook?

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Make it a federated service

It would be. I’ve spent some time working out what would be needed, and my conclusion was that it’s all available as open standards and open implementations. The problem is that it’s not legally possible to force Facebook to take part in the federated system. Without that, the federated system would become just another small platform that wasn’t really relevant.

Facebook’s position is just the network effect at work: everybody uses Facebook because everybody else they know uses Facebook. You can’t "break up" Facebook in a way that neutralizes the network effect. The only thing I think could affect their data-collection practices is to bar them from conditioning access to their platform on acceptance of their privacy terms, and I can’t see any way to legally do that. The best I can come up with would be a law vesting ownership of personal information explicitly in the person it was about and declaring any contract terms purporting to grant blanket authorization for collection/use of that data by any other party contrary to public policy and illegal (ie. Facebook would have to negotiate separate agreements with each user for each specific transfer of data to another party and for each change in what that data would be used for, with statutory liability for any failure to comply so that users wouldn’t have to prove they were harmed, only that a violation occurred).

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Make it a federated service

Don’t give up on a good concept so easily…

I think figuring out how to incentivize Facebook to participate in a federated system is what you need…. you may need to change a few laws, of course.

The carrot might be content moderation, which also needs to be federated to be effective. It might be abolishing their copyrights.

Remember that because Facebook is so large, a bunch of people think Facebook ought to be doing things more like an ideal government or a public utility, treating all comers evenhandedly, the fly being that Kamala Harris wants to suppress all sex workers and I think that’s just silly.

As it is, Facebook supports an open API, it’s just at too low of a level (https) to be terribly useful, and there’s this crazy copyright problem.

So what I suggest is a bargain that goes like this: Facebook must let me (or anyone else) copy whatever I like from it, so I can moderate it for you and Mike Masnick… but in return I have to use a protocol that tells them what my moderation decisions were, which they are free to use in any way they see fit.

If you or facebook likes my approach and moderation, they can copy it and make money themselves. If you don’t feel like trusting facebook, stay with me, and I will make money.

Oh, and don’t forget about lies, damned lies, and audience metrics! Speaking of which, we might need a low-friction way for me to get paid when I pass through Facebook’s advertising.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Make it a federated service

Problem: Facebook doesn’t own the copyright to most of it’s content, it’s users do. Facebook merely has authorization from them to use their content. You’d have to come up with a legal justification for granting you authorization to copy my content because of something someone completely unrelated to me did, and I don’t think you can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Make it a federated service

Federated services run into connection problems, as in how many instances do you connect to, and how are you postings on a topic found by someone on an instance that the instance you use does not connect to. Also, if you cannot run your own instance, how many instances do you have an account on so as to see posting when they happen.

Federated services equivalent to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc. already exist, but are not that popular because connecting to people, and finding relevant postings and people is difficult, even if they services are well indexed by centralized search engines.

Gateway Timeout says:

"everyone can reach everyone"?

Unless `Dangerous’ Conservative Figures.

Facebook Bans `Dangerous’ Conservative Figures but Continues to Allow Leftist Calls for Violence


Masnick, you’re not fooling anyone with your "concern" — which is always hedged with bigger concern that any action would somehow lead to worse! Of course you can’t even claim that Facebook will get better by itself. And in the real world, if don’t take action on growing problems they NEVER get better.

To be clear: I’m actually on the fence about the idea of breaking up Facebook.

Oh, baloney.

You have, as ever, just repeated a problem then written "I’m concerned, BUT."

You have never to my knowledge EVER even slightly ACTUALLY even suggested taking action against a corporaton. — Hell, back when Prenda lawyers got sanctioned, even then you worried about their corporation! (That’s accurate, but no, I won’t dig for it. Not worth my while. The same pro-corporate stance is obvious right above.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hell, back when Prenda lawyers got sanctioned, even then you worried about their corporation!

…What the fuck does this even mean? Are you seriously suggesting that Masnick was worried that Prenda’s corporation (which… beyond the three stooges of Duffy, Hansmeier and Steele, plus their random local counsel of assorted suckers, doesn’t exist aside from LLCs and shell entities) might not survive?

Did you just attempt to claim that Masnick was pro-Prenda Law?

Considering the tantrum you threw about copyright lawyers getting arrested, this is about the biggest own-goal you’ve managed, blue – and that’s saying a LOT

Anonymous Coward says:

You have Zuckerberg over to the White House for a schivtz…then yadda-yadda-yadda….Facebook is broken up!

Seriously, they could just demand that the company be split into two identical (at first) companies, maybe one with a liberal bias, and another with a conservative bias, and then a third that does whatever it wants.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The internet really has changed things. You know, like copyright.

For once, you are correct. The Internet has had an effect on copyright…in that it proved how utterly behind the times and the technology that the concept of copyright truly is. When I can make a digital copy of my own work, upload that copy to a web server, and distribute a virtually endless number of copies to whoever wants one, a copyright system designed for a time when copying was an expensive and time-consuming endeavor is no longer a system that works.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

And Facebook’s "responsibility" is not to make sure people are "protected" (whatever that means) or that "markets are competitive."

You’re right; in both cases, that’s the government’s responsibility. However, since we’re discussing a call for the government to break up Facebook here, that’s a minor digression at best in the overall scheme of things.

Thad (profile) says:

I’m amenable to breaking up Facebook, but Hughes’s comments about regulating its content are illiterate.

Useful Popehat link: How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies

Hughes uses several of the tropes White mentions in that piece. It really doesn’t seem like he has even a basic grasp of First Amendment case law.

The greatest irony is, of course, that if Facebook’s content were subject to government regulation, that would significantly decrease its ability to moderate. The First Amendment restricts the government; it does not restrict private platforms.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ken White is very impressed with himself, but he just got on the internet before most others did. Otherwise, he’s one of many former federal prosecutors. Let’s see what he says:

In the United States, "hate speech" is an argumentative rhetorical category, not a legal one.

Wrong. Hate crimes offer enhanced penalties for speech uttered during the commission of other crimes. Civil actions for discrimination also recognize "hate speech" against protected classes. Sometimes, namecalling — hate speech — is sufficient to trigger criminal charges. He is therefore wrong.

  • Americans are free to impose social consequences on ugly speech, but the government is not free to impose official sanctions upon it.*

See above.

The observation "not all speech is protected" adds nothing to a discussion because it offers no mechanism for determining whether the speech at issue falls into a traditional exception or not.

It’s not designed to determine which speech should be banned, but rather establishes that not all speech should be protected.

The line between free speech and bullying" — another recently popular line — is another example. It implies, falsely, that there is a legally meaningful category of speech called "bullying" that lies outside of First Amendment protections.

Wrong again. Same for harassment law. It’s not illegal to ask someone out, but do it after they request someone stop and that speech becomes illegal. Same for repeated, unwanted contact, or incitement. Speech which gives rise to incitement charges can be legal in some situations but not others. There is a definite line between free speech and these examples.

"Balancing," when used as a colloquial description of how courts decide whether speech is protected, is almost always wrong. American courts don’t weigh the value of speech against the harm it does.

Yes they do, or they wouldn’t be able to determine what constitutes harassment or even a threat.

The First Amendment is, in a way, categorical: there are well-defined categories of speech that are not protected, as I discussed above. But media commentators often abuse categorical thinking by inventing new categories of speech outside the First Amendment. "This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech." "This isn’t free speech, it’s discrimination."

Neither of which are free speech. The media is correct. Harassment and discrimination are illegal and therefore not protected speech. That LINE exists.

No discussion of controversial speech is complete without some idiot suggesting that it may be "fighting words….In 1942 the Supreme Court held that the government could prohibit "fighting words" — "those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." The Supreme Court has been retreating from that pronouncement ever since. If the "fighting words" doctrine survives — that’s in serious doubt — it’s limited to face-to-face insults likely to provoke a reasonable person to violent retaliation.

There was no internet in 1942. The way people behave online, this needs a comeback. Defamation should be de facto fighting words, for example. Accusing someone of a crime as well (in the event someone didn’t commit the crime). Imputing mental illness on someone or want of chastity should qualify as well. Matter of time before this is tested again.

Trope Eight: "[Professor] explained . . . ."

Just like "we’ve explained" here….or "Popehat explained" for that matter.

Trope Nine: "This speech may be protected for now, but the law is always changing."

It sure is.

Ken White is no thought leader. He’s a prolific internet poster, nothing more. His is but one opinion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I don’t think you speak for anyone but yourself
Classic John Smith projection.

Um, I was posting about Ken White, not you. There’s no "projection" in noting that. I assume you don’t speak for Mr. White.

Excuse me is that a threat?
"Those are fighting words" is your new trademark go-to. Is it a threat? Nobody knows better than you.

Which has nothing to do with what YOU posted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We get it, Ken White wrote about how John Steele and Prenda Law managed to royally fuck up copyright enforcement and now your only recourse to enforce copyright by means of using a machine gun on alleged pirates is to destroy Section 230 once and for all. The mention of Ken White existing in the same plane of reality as you makes you pee in your own cornflakes and stuff your own wadded panties up your rectum to join the stick in your ass.

Get over yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Except Ken White doesn’t seem to be speaking for himself, and in fact seems to avoid that in my case, for good reason, as he couldn’t win a debate and he’d be humiliated.

He’s a mean-spirited coward with a big mouth. Perhaps you should invite him to get a room if you like him so much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

John Steele’s arrest does seem to trigger you especially hard, now why is that?

Don’t even know who that is, so the real question is why you make stuff up.

What does this have to do with Ken White anyway? His "snark" (i.e., mouth) isn’t that difficult to find. The man has no class, though he has a very effective scarecrow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:12 Re:

Yeah, about that case? Milorad Trkulja isn’t suing about someone calling him a gangster. It was about him turning up in Google searches. The post, the lie you want to rant about… doesn’t exist.

What we do have now are websites pointing out that he’s now being linked to gangsters because he chose to pursue the case. Why you think this is a case for "distributor liability theory" is beyond me. Is his employer sacking him because he thinks Milorad is a gangster?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:14 Re:

So you want a system where anybody can have anything they disagree with removed from the Internet, which means either you have more faith in humanity that I do, or think that what you write will not be targetted, but that you can target everything that offends you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:15

Defamation goes way beyond "offending" someone.

A woman who is called a hooker by her ex-boyfriend shouldn’t have to answer to that lie ten years later because some potential employer found it in Google.

Anyone who puts 230 and Google above the rights of a woman like this is not anyone I would agree with, and apparently the UK and AUS courts agree with me.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:16

"A woman who is called a hooker by her ex-boyfriend shouldn’t have to answer to that lie ten years later because some potential employer found it in Google"

Meanwhile, potential employers shouldn’t be taking comments made 10 years ago by ex-boyfriends into account as part of their hiring process, especially not at face value and out of context. Hiding information from Google will not remove it from the primary source, nor will it stop them being a crappy employer.

Anyone who put the rights of crappy employers above the rights of millions of employees to keep their jobs with companies that exist purely because they can’t be held responsible for the actions of others is not anyone I would agree with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Don’t know who did that but it wasn’t me.

Going through the search engine proves otherwise.

People are awfully obsessed with me that’s for sure.

Yes, people normally are never concerned about other anonymous cowards that threaten police action and subpoenas; totally benign things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Don’t know who did that but it wasn’t me.
Going through the search engine proves otherwise.

Except it wasn’t me if anyone said that.

People are awfully obsessed with me that’s for sure.
Yes, people normally are never concerned about other anonymous cowards that threaten police action and subpoenas; totally benign things.

And what caused this alleged escalation again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Alleged? Right here, you claimed:

One piece of paper gets your name. You ready? The GANG on this site speaks only one language. I don’t care who you THINK you are fucking with but you’re about to find out.

Unless you mean to say you were lying, of course.

Tell you what, you caught me in a giving mood; I’m going to do your homework for you! Ready, class?

"Like I said, there is already police involvement… You think I give a shit about publicizing the people already taken down because of this garbage? Maybe you’re a dumb Aspie or something"

"The Aspie/4Chan crowd here is deliberately ignoring this but those with real power are not."

"Oh wait, Aspies can’t detect irony."

"We outrank pirates in money, resources and the government’s ear. You Aspies are fucked."

"The Aspie/4Chan crew that runs the comments here will chime in and this is not the place to shed full light on Masnick, but his support of a law that causes a man to be harassed the way this one was only shows where his loyalties lie. People like this … should be ostracized to the point of complete exclusion."

"Wow, ad-hominem proof-by-assertion from a 4Chan Aspie with a hidden agenda."

"You’re going to learn what it’s like to poke a bear. An old, potent, powerful, rich, accomplished bear. I’m going to fuck you up your Aspie ass so hard you’ll beg for me to drop a SWAT team down your whore mouth."

"Ken White won’t be able to save you Aspie asses."

"You Aspies are next. I hope you brought lube."

And that, class, is how you take a John Smith to school. Or as another more qualified poster called it, "an old, impotent fuckwit".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

What’s your plan if the IP evidence shows I didn’t make many of those posts (and did NOT say anything about raping Aspies) but was basically extorted with a threat that they would be attributed to me?

Don’t believe everything you read online. It’s the same problem with Section 230: people believe what they read, repeat it, and wind up sued.

Are you of the mistaken belief that I can’t hire an attorney if the need arises? Will your brain implode if the reality of my life doesn’t fit the internet narrative you are trying to create?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

You were threatened because words were attributed to "Anonymous Coward"/John Smith? Which you’ve previously stated was a purposefully chosen alias?

I’m sure the FBI is going to scramble the army to save the reputation of a fake name.

Seriously through, when’s the subpoena coming? You’ve been promising one for the past year and all you can offer is "I have so much I can ruin Masnick with! I could ruin all of you! Police investigations are ongoing! I swear they are, honest! But not now! Just you wait!" This waiting game is boring, you know that? I was promised an anal raping, not table scraps.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

You were threatened because words were attributed to "Anonymous Coward"/John Smith? Which you’ve previously stated was a purposefully chosen alias? I’m sure the FBI is going to scramble the army to save the reputation of a fake name.

You don’t seem to understand what gave rise to this, and it’s not my job to educate you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

"What’s your plan if the IP evidence shows I didn’t make many of those posts (and did NOT say anything about raping Aspies) but was basically extorted with a threat that they would be attributed to me?"

I don’t know about you, but most people don’t tend to lose sleep over comments attached to a universal pseudonym.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

"What’s your plan if the IP evidence shows I didn’t make many of those posts (and did NOT say anything about raping Aspies) but was basically extorted with a threat that they would be attributed to me?"

Hope that you learn that it’s dumb to be offended by being mixed up with someone else when you deliberately choose not to provide a way to differentiate yourself from hundreds of other anonymous posters?

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hate speech

Hate crimes offer enhanced penalties for speech uttered during the commission of other crimes.

Hate crimes depend upon the motive of the perpetrator. Speech uttered by the perpetrator is merely evidence of that motive, it isn’t a distinct legal type of thing.

Civil actions for discrimination also recognize "hate speech" against protected classes.

Civil discrimination is again dependant upon motive, and speech is again merely evidence, not a distinct legal entity.

morganwick (profile) says:

This post is kinda repetitive. It would have done better if Mike had just summarized all the points Chris makes about how problematic Facebook is that cleaving off Instagram and Whatsapp wouldn’t solve, only break out those points where he can say something beyond that, and then go in-depth on Chris’s vision on what a broken-up and regulated Facebook would look like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Personally, I think you’re all totally off base. Look, Zuckerberg is one of the most patient people that ever lived. Look at the history of Facebook. Wow, who could wait so long to make money. He’s a genius, deserving of riches and fame beyond imagination.

And, now that he’s a secret part of Trump’s administration, he’s going to be FABULOUSLY WEALTHY, even more, and then some more after that. So much money he won’t know what to do with it. Because he’s worth it. Patience is a virtue, and he’s going to win BIGLY. I heard that Zuckerberg is already buying land on the Beach on North Korea, and building a wall around it. Because WALLS are good. And North Korea is going to be a GOLD MINE.

Unless we have to nuke them, of course. But someone as patient as Zuckerberg can wait, even if we do Nuke them, it’ll get better, and he will make money.

Wow, what a man. And a Patriot, too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Welcome to Techdirt, where we take Troll Feeding to a whole other level, more often than not to the detriment of the rest of the comment thread.

Any time I see an article with this many comments, it’s almost always because there are people feeding the trolls, trolls laying more bait in response to that feeding, people feeding them again, and so on and so forth. Please exert some self control; don’t feed the troll. Flag their posts and leave more robust and constructive comments/replies elsewhere in the thread.

Darkness Of Course (profile) says:

Facebook too big - waaaah

Okay, let’s breakup the hugest companies. Here are a few companies that are huge and not tech.

Walmart – largest company in the world.
Exxon Mobil
Berkshire Hathaway
United Healthcare
CVS Health

apple is third in this list and Amazon is last. But why won’t the EU break up Royal Dutch Shell?

Or let’s just focus on the top; Walmart. Yep, Walmart is not a tech company so nobody cares. Of course they exposed personal data of 1.3m US shoppers. So maybe 1.3m Americans might care.

Fifty largest companies by revenue, wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_companies_by_revenue

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