The Facebook co-founder has made enemies—very rich enemies—of many of his former partners, who are now speaking out. Chris Hughes and the others should put their money where their mouth is.
Over the past several years, Facebook has created a new species of technology skeptic with two common traits. Brian Acton, Sean Parker, Chamath Palihapitiya, Chris Hughes, Alex Stamos, Roger McNamee, Kevin Systrom, Mike Krieger: all are worth millions, and, in some cases, billions of dollars, thanks to Facebook and its cybernetic C.E.O., Mark Zuckerberg. And yet, publicly and privately, all have expressed concern or regret about working for the company that made them so affluent. Acton, the WhatsApp co-founder who sold his company to Zuckerberg for $19 billion, wrote on Twitter last year, “It is time. #deletefacebook.” Parker, who served as Facebook’s first president, has said, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” Palihapitiya, Facebook’s former head of growth, described social media as “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” In the most recent, and highest-profile, act of apostasy, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Zuckerberg’s former Harvard roommate, announced this month that Facebook should be broken up by the federal government.
It’s not just former executives who can afford the self-reflection. Privately, numerous former Facebook and Instagram employees have told me how much they hated working there toward the end of their tenure, and how they now regret ever being associated with Zuckerberg. One former employee even told me he had been suffering from major panic attacks every day he went to work. The pressure coming from high up within the company, where there was a constant drumbeat of paranoia surrounding internal and external enemies trying to destroy Facebook, eventually became too much, and he quit. Others have said they struggled with whether the good (connecting people all over the world, helping people share their vacation videos and photos of their first child, finding like-minded groups around specific topics) outweighs the bad (fake news, digital addiction, data-privacy breaches).
With Facebook leadership mired in yet another scandal this week—refusing to take down a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi, edited to make the Democratic House speaker look drunk or senile—it’s becoming ever clearer that real change will take both internal and external pressures. Many of the same people who are now feeling sick about Facebook would once have taken a bullet for the company. I recently heard a story about an employee who used to proudly wear his Facebook T-shirt and Facebook embroidered book bag around San Francisco, but took it off after being accosted by passersby about the role the company played in the 2016 election. How many more current and former employees feel the same way? More important, what can they do about it?