Sat. Aug 17th, 2019

Early Facebook executives have reached a surprising consensus about the company’s power


I. Of the four people credited as co-founders as Facebook, Chris Hughes’ contributions are perhaps the most unusual for a startup employee. Unlike Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, he did not write code. Unlike Eduardo Saverin, he did not contribute to business development or sales. Instead, as recounted by Ellen McGirt in a 2009 profile, Hughes was known internally for what might be called his soft skills:

Hughes was the poet among the teenagers who created Facebook; unlike Zuckerberg and dorm mate and cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, he didn’t write software code and didn’t want to. Instead, he tried to figure out ways that people would want to connect with one another and share stuff more easily. (His nickname among Facebook insiders is “the Empath.”) Hughes began to make product suggestions, “screwing around with the site,” as he puts it. When they decided to open Facebook to students outside of Harvard, he argued that different schools should have their own networks, to help maintain the site’s feeling of safety and intimacy. He became the official Facebook explainer: part anthropologist, part customer-service rep, part media spokesperson.

Even while he was at Facebook, though, Hughes was a heretic. While the other founders wanted to build a unified network, Hughes argued each college should get its own network, to preserve a sense of close-knit community. He lost the argument in the moment, though Facebook’s recent embrace of groups suggests that he was on to something.

Hughes was charmed away from Facebook in 2007, three years after the company’s founding, by another prominent empath: Barack Obama. He went on to have rocky careers in politics and magazine ownership. But today Hughes re-emerged, with an op-ed in The New York Times, to renounce the company he helped to build. Facebook should be broken up, he says — it is simply too big and powerful for one person to run it: Read more

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