There was a lot of hype this past week over the idea that Facebook should be broken up – specifically by one of the platform’s co-founders – Chris Hughes. While this idea isn’t necessarily anything new, we are now hearing from politicians that lawmakers need to take action. No, I’m not talking about Elizabeth Warren, who published an entire proposal calling for regulators to split off Facebook subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp. So how is this different than Warren, or is it even?
“I think that Facebook has experienced massive growth, and has prioritized its growth over the best interests of its consumers—especially on the issue of privacy. There is no question in my mind that there needs to be serious regulation, and that has not been happing. There needs to be more oversight; that has not been happening. They have not been adequately informing consumers about where they are relinquishing their privacy.”Kamala Harris
She’s not wrong. Facebook hasn’t been informing consumers about where they are relinquishing their privacy. In an interview with CNN, Harris was asked directly if she believed that Facebook should be broken up and her response was:
“Yeah, I think we have to seriously take a look at that. Yes. I mean, when you look at the issue, they’re essentially a utility. There are very people that can actually get by and be involved in their communities or society, or in whatever their profession [is], without somehow, somewhere using Facebook. It’s very difficult for people to be engaged in any level of commerce without Facebook. So we have to recognize it for what it is. It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated. And as far as I’m concerned that’s gotta stop.”Kamala Harris
Harris is currently falling behind in the polls, so some people are probably wondering if this is all in an attempt to gain more traction? Typically, the President doesn’t get involved in cases that are being brought forward by federal authorities. And that’s what is happening in this case with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. But the White House does have the ability to appoint nominees and can set general priorities for the Department of Justice, for example. In fact, the current administration has flirted with the idea of throwing independence to the wind and ordering antitrust officials to look at major online platforms. Of course, the impetus is that the current administration believes that Silicon Valley companies are conspiring against Republicans.
I know that I said that Harris is falling behind in the polls – and she is. But she is also considered one of the more credible competitors for the 2020 Democratic nomination. But is Harris riding on Warren’s coat tails with this particular campaign promise, given the fact that it is picking up steam and it will play a prominent role in politics over the next five years? I mean, you can’t deny the fact that something has to give in this pressure cooker that is Facebook, but what will give and who will give it remains to be seen. The fact that Harris is on board with dismantling Facebook means that it’s only a matter of time before other politicians join her.