For months, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has made “big, structural change” the rallying cry of her presidential campaign. And when it comes to the tech sector, that has meant taking square aim at giant companies like Facebook — companies she says have become so large that they are stifling competition.
Warren rolled out a proposal to break up Facebook, Amazon and other tech giants in March.
To ensure that tech workers got her message, her campaign paid for a billboard near a major transit station in San Francisco. In all capital letters, the billboard read: “Break Up Big Tech.”
Today, nearly seven months after Warren first unveiled her plan, The Verge offered a window into what Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, thinks about it.
In leaked audio recordings of open meetings with employees this summer, Zuckerberg can be heard speculating about how the company would respond to Warren if she were to enact the plan as president.
“If she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge,” he said.
“Does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. That’s not like the position you want to be in. We care about our country and want to work with our government to do good things,” he added. “But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
Shortly after The Verge published Zuckerberg’s remarks, Warren responded by renewing her criticism of Facebook.
“What would really ‘suck,’” she said, mimicking Zuckerberg’s language, “is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”
The public surfacing of grievances between Warren and Zuckerberg has the effect of publicly pitting one of the leading Democratic candidates for president against the head of the world’s largest social network, at a time when Silicon Valley in general and Facebook in particular continue to be scrutinized for its efforts to combat disinformation and prevent election interference in 2020 and beyond.
In the audio recording clipped and published by The Verge, Zuckerberg ties his criticism of Warren’s plan to concerns about election interference.
“It’s just that breaking up these companies, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Amazon, is not actually going to solve the issues,” he said. “And, you know, it doesn’t make election interference less likely. It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together.”
After the leaked audio was published and Warren responded, Zuckerberg commented on the episode in a Facebook post.
“Every week I do a Q&A at Facebook where employees get to ask me anything and I share openly what I’m thinking on all kinds of projects and issues,” he said. “The transcript from one of my Q&As a few months ago just got published online — and even though it was meant to be internal rather than public, now that it’s out there, you can check it out if you’re interested in seeing an unfiltered version of what I’m thinking and telling employees on a bunch of topics.”
Warren, meanwhile, used the renewed focus on the issue as an opportunity to reiterate that she is “not afraid to hold Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon accountable.”
In her proposal, Warren argues that the tech giants have essentially developed monopolies — they have “bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.”
Her plan calls for legislation that would prohibit platforms like Amazon from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace; appointing regulators to undo some tech mergers; and rolling back some acquisitions by tech giants, such as Facebook’s deals for WhatsApp and Instagram.
By offering a steady diet of detailed policy proposals, Warren has grown her following significantly and risen to the top of the polls. Her plans to reshape the government extend to areas like the economy and education, where she has called for a wealth tax and canceling student loan debt.
“We have these giant corporations — do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? — that think they can roll over everyone,” Warren told a crowd there earlier this year, after Amazon pulled out of plans to build a new campus in the neighborhood. “I’m sick of freeloading billionaires.”