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Interview with Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes: It's Time to Break Up Facebook; Mother Says She Warned of "Another Columbine" at STEM School. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 10, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:20] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. He is the co- founder of Facebook and now he's calling for the social media giant to be broken up. Chris Hughes, who helped Mark Zuckerberg transform Facebook from a Harvard dorm-room project into a revolutionary business, he lays out in a really scathing "New York Times" opinion piece why he believes Facebook's reach and power is dangerous and should be stopped. Hughes reserves his toughest criticism for Zuckerberg himself, saying this, in part -- and it's a lengthy piece. He's saying this: "Mark is a good, kind person. But I'm angry his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks." He goes on to say, "Mark's power is unprecedented and un- American."

Facebook is now pushing back today. A spokesman saying this in a statement I'll read for you: "Facebook accepts that, with success, comes accountability, but you don't enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company."

Let's find out. Joining me now is Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes.

Chris, thank you so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: It's a real exhaustive analysis of --


HUGHES: Not too exhausting.


BOLDUAN: That you clearly -- I was struck by, you clearly -- this was a long time coming for you. You left Facebook in 2007. You cashed out in 2012. Why now? What compelled you to write this now?

HUGHES: Well, I think like a lot of other Americans, I marveled at Facebook's growth, and as you said, sold me shared in 2012, but for several years following that was so impressed by the direction of the company. Then in 2016, with the rise of Donald Trump and then following international locations to a sense that the platform might be leading to provoking nationalist conversations and then the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And now every month, there seems like there's another scandal after another. I began to go on this journey about thinking about, I work on economic issues all day and things that have to do with anti-trust. I said, how can this be stopped. I have come to the conclusion that a competitive market is the way to hold Mark and Facebook accountable. Right now, they're not accountable because they don't have competitor. They're not accountable to a board. Mark controls 60 percent of the voting shares. And they're not really that accountable to government yet. So I believe that the government should step in, make the market more competitive and regulate it to protect users' privacy to enable them to move to different platforms and set guidelines for speech.

BOLDUAN: You write -- you take on some of the tough questions you're going to be faced with. You say you take responsibility for not sounding the alarm sooner. You lay out kind of what the triggers were around the 2016 time period. Why is it for you that if you knew that you have some responsibility that you didn't sound the alarm sooner, why didn't you?

HUGHES: Well, I think that there's this thing about Facebook that is a question that I think a lot of people grapple with. It's unclear, is Facebook just showing us the way we have always been. Were people always screaming at each other about politics and now we can just see it when we log in, or is Facebook actually -- and social media in general -- actually changing the way that we talk about our politics? So for me, for a long time, I thought it was more of the former, that it was just people will be crazy. And people are often saying what they believe. And over time, I have come to believe that Facebook is actually contributing to that. What I know is that there are algorithms, rules essentially, that are programmed to show certain things in news feed and other things. I'm on the patent for news feed. So it's a very complex thing. But those rules are set by humans. So Mark himself has said that Facebook went too far, wasn't secure enough in the 2016 election. He's taken responsibility for it. But the point is that one company and one person have this outsized power. I mean, 2.4 billion people on Facebook, because Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp, so there's no accountability there. My own journey is waking up to this. And I had, you know, exchanged messages with Mark and talked with him, as I talk about in the piece --


[11:35:33] BOLDUAN: Did you give him a heads-up you were going to do this?

HUGHES: I didn't. I didn't. I don't think it came as a surprise. I have been critical of a lot of the company's decisions over the past year, and he knows that.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this.

HUGHES: And so --

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this. You do reserve your toughest criticism for Mark. You say he's a good guy, he's a kind guy, but. Is this in any way a personal beef between the two of you?

HUGHES: It's not a personal beef, but it is personal. I have been friends with Mark for 15-plus years. I don't know if we'll be friends on the other side of this piece, but I have no beef with him. I like Mark. I love his family. He's a good person. I also think he has too much power. I should say that I think that, ultimately, it's up to government to solve this. You know, it's not like Mark Zuckerberg -- ironically, this is the one problem that Mark Zuckerberg cannot solve. It's up to government to come in, break up the company, and set this baseline of standards. So I do feel a sense of anger, as I say in the piece, that Facebook has become this. A sense of personal responsibility about it. But to me, the solution has to be government stepping up, not Mark, per se.

BOLDUAN: We have a chance -- so Facebook's response, they accept with success comes accountability, "but you don't enforce accountability for calling for the breakup of a successful American company."

Do they have a point? Do you have to break it up? Is there something short of it that would make sense to you?

HUGHES: Probably unsurprisingly, I disagree. I think we have a long tradition in the United States of, when companies get too big, too powerful, and become unaccountable, we say, hey, we like free markets, we like markets when they're dynamic and fair, and we want competition. Because competition does enforce accountability. If you don't like a burger that you get at one restaurant, you have 10 others down the street to choose from. And thus the free market works. That's how it's supposed to work, at least.


HUGHES: But when one company gets so big, there isn't really accountability. I think that's what needs to change.

BOLDUAN: Before breaking it up, can you help it?

HUGHES: I think that Facebook is trying hard to right the ship, but I think that we shouldn't need to just trust the private sector to do the right thing. We don't do that with airlines. We don't do that with pharmaceutical companies. We don't do that with the financial industry. We don't do that with health care. We say we want competition. We understand that dynamic markets are a good thing. But we want to also ensure that there's a baseline level of protection. And the fact that we haven't gotten there with digital companies, I think is just a testament to how quickly not just Facebook but Google, Amazon, Apple, all of them have grown.

BOLDUAN: I haven't even thought of this until now. Do you think Facebook can change? Facebook can be fixed with Mark Zuckerberg still at the helm? You don't address it in your piece. Do you think Mark needs to go?

HUGHES: Yes, some people have asked me that exact question, should he resign. I think that -- what he said more or less, I created this mess, I'm going to fix it. But I think we also need to take a step back and understand -- let's say he did step down. He still owns 60 percent of the voting shares. So he would hire his replacement, effectively. So I don't know what would be much better about having Mark as a chairman with a puppeteer as the CEO. I don't think -- again, I don't -- I think we always go to how can the private sector solve this, how can Facebook just clean up its act. I think it's government that has to step in and be the solution here.

BOLDUAN: Chris, if you could stick around, I have many more questions to come.

We're going to take a quick break. But I have more questions for Chris, like which presidential candidates, if government, as he says, is the one who needs to come in and fix it, which presidential candidates on the Democratic side that we're talking about, which one does he think can get this done?

[11:39:25] We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We are back now with Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes.

Chris, thanks for sticking around, not running away from me at the break.


BOLDUAN: So let's talk about what the future would look like if Facebook -- with that big statement of Facebook being broken up. I do wonder, what if the alternatives are worse? You have a Facebook for liberals, a Facebook for conservatives --


BOLDUAN: -- a social media network that does an even worse job of protecting against security breaches.

HUGHES: I worry about the same thing. I mean, I also worry about national security concerns. What if China is on Facebook --


HUGHES: -- or something, that becomes so dominant. There's a lot of things we should worry about. I think that we shouldn't let those worries, though, be a justification for inaction now. I mean, I genuinely do think that markets are better when they are competitive and fair. And so just saying, well, we're effectively going to choose a winner, that's sort of old school industrial policy. We're going to just crown Facebook the social network because it got so big and we're not going to worry because it could be worse. I think that would justify inaction. So it's not that I think that everything is going to come up roses after Facebook is broken up and competition is going to solve all the problems, but that just sets us up in a false choice of either Facebook stays intact and keeps having these sloppy privacy practices and these failures or (INAUDIBLE). BOLDUAN: More competition, if that had been in place, would that have

stopped the Cambridge Analytica mess? Would that have stopped Russians from utilizing --


HUGHES: I don't think so its own, per se. That's why, in the piece, I go out of my way to call for both breakup and regulation.

BOLDUAN: And regulation.

HUGHES: I do think, though, that with competition, there would have been somewhere else for users to go. There's this Pew Research, Pew Institute study from last year that showed one in four Facebook users deleted the Facebook app from their phone.

BOLDUAN: From their phone.

HUGHES: And you know, I say this, you know, people go to Instagram, but Instagram is owned by Facebook.

BOLDUAN: It's also owned by Facebook that a lot of people don't remember.

[11:45:02] HUGHES: To be fair to Facebook, Snapchat does exist, LinkedIn does exist. These are social networks. When you take a step back and look, by any account, by the dollars, the attention, the minutes, Facebook is just so enormous and so dominates the space. Snapchat's revenue last year was a billion dollars. Facebook's was $55 billion --


HUGHES: -- so 55 times that. It's just small enough to point and say, look, guys, we have competition when it's really not.

BOLDUAN: I have to ask you about the government regulation part of this. Everyone remembers, I would say, the infamous hearing of Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the Senate. And the marquee takeaway sound byte was a Senator asking, how -- if Facebook is free --

HUGHES: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- how do you make money off it, and he looks at them with surprise and says, we have ads.

HUGHES: Exactly, advertising. Something like that.

BOLDUAN: Yes, we have advertising. If that's the basis with which you're dealing with, of what lawmakers would know and do, how can you trust that they're the -- why is Congress the right way to go?

HUGHES: I mean, that was a cringe-worthy moment, I think, for everyone, particularly people who believe that government can be a force for good in the world. I think a lot of those folks have beefed up since and know a lot more than they did. But I think, for every one of those folks, there are several who are stepping out and leading the way.


HUGHES: And it's not just on the left. A lot of people often talk about Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, those folks who are coming out.


BOLDUAN: Which 2020 candidates are you interested in terms of who gets it?

HUGHES: Both of those have tweeted about it. But just to finish the previous point before we get there, it's also popular on the right. Yesterday, Mike Huckabee was tweeting about this. A couple of weeks ago, Ted Cruz was calling for additional oversight. And let's remember, AT&T was broken up under Ronald Reagan.



HUGHES: So this is not just a left/right issue. It's one of the unusual ones where there can be agreement on both sides.

But to answer your question on the 2020 field amongst the Democrats, I think Elizabeth Warren has been out front --

BOLDUAN: She has.

HUGHES: -- on these issues. She's talked about it, not just with tech, but with Big Ag, with the big agricultural companies, and elsewhere in the economy. I think Bernie Sanders is talking about it some. Also, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker has called for more oversight, I think Amy Klobuchar. I think it's increasingly a consensus point in the field. Not just that Facebook needs more oversight, but that we have had this increasing concentration of power -- three-quarters of American industries -- more concentrated now than they were 20 years ago. Fewer companies, bigger ones, and that -- we have had oversight of that for a very long time, but we seem to have lost the tools to enforce it and we need to pick it back up.

BOLDUAN: You have definitely started a conversation, and I really appreciate you coming here to continue it.


BOLDUAN: We'll see where it goes from here.

HUGHES: Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: I'm really interested to see what happens from here.

Great to see you.

HUGHES: Thanks. BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Chris.

Coming up for us, sounding the alarm months before this week's deadly school shooting in Colorado. One parent says she warned of a, quote, "another Columbine" could happen. Coming up next, her exclusive interview with CNN.

We'll be right back.


[11:50:19] BOLDUAN: This week "CNN Hero" is delivering meals with a dash of love. I love that. She's 75 years old and owns a small diner in San Diego. She also makes home-cooked meals for those who are unable to feed themselves. Meet Ruth Henricks.


RUTH HENRICKS, CNN HERO: There's a special connection when you're feeding people.

Let's do the veggie burgers.

In the beginning, our mission was feeding people living with AIDS. And now we have added people living with other chronic illnesses. A lot of them are bed-bound. Many times they don't have the money to shop. It's kind of a desperate thing when they don't have any food in the house.

Nice to see you.

It's bringing that love. It's bringing that dignity to them. This is the assignment that I feel that I've been given.


BOLDUAN: To see how Ruth got it all started, or to nominate your own "CNN Hero," go to right now.


BOLDUAN: The entire community of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is still reeling from the horrific school shooting that took one beautiful life on Tuesday and injured many others. Now CNN is learning that, months ago, an anonymous complaint from a school parent warned the conditions at the school would lead to, quote, "another Columbine" happening. Her complaint sparked an investigation by the school board. And now the woman, for the first time, who says she's that anonymous parent, is talking exclusively to CNN.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Colorado with more.

Scott, what are you learning?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. First off, I should let you know the court appearances for the two suspects in this case have both been postponed until next week though the D.A.'s office is not explaining why. This week, the prosecution had asked for more time to file formal charges and thought we still haven't heard them, we know that first-degree murder and attempted murder will be those charges. But we were hoping to get or expecting to get court documents today and also to find out whether the D.A.'s office plans to pursue adult charges or juvenile charges against that 16-year-old.

Now, as to those potential missed warning signs, the woman you're about to hear from says she is the parent who complained about what she described as pressure-cooker conditions inside the school. She wants to remain anonymous because she fears for retaliation. But CNN has confirmed she does have a child inside the school. And the school -- and she also knew details about the allegations that were made. She speaks of kids who are in rigorous academic programs, little sleep, and started acting out with aggressiveness. She also talked about attempted suicide, teachers having to intervene in fights, and she was worried all of this might culminate in somebody getting hurt or even killed. Listen.


[11:55:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I also saw violence against themselves happening, you know, with students, and threats of suicide, cutting, attempted suicide, drug use that was getting pretty serious. You know, numerous reports from my children that witnessed, experienced it firsthand, and other students that witnessed it or experienced it firsthand. So it -- the pattern was pervasive.


MCLEAN: Now this parent says that teachers at the school were well- intentioned but there was a pervasive culture of polarization that the school administration just wasn't listening to teachers and parents.

Now, the executive director of this school responded to CNN through a P.R. firm and said that there was simply no evidence that the school found to support these allegations made by this anonymous parent. In that statement, she wrote, "Like any school with more than 1,800 students, we received complaints, all of which we take seriously and investigated promptly."

But, Kate, I should also point out that in response to that initial complaint, the school actually filed a defamation lawsuit against this parent back in January -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Scott, thank you so much for bringing that to us. I really appreciate it.

Coming up still for us, the trade fight between the U.S. and China intensifies as President Trump hikes tariffs on thousands of Chinese goods coming to the U.S. Now, China is vowing to retaliate. Where is this headed, folks? That's ahead.