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Would trolls, fake news and privacy invasions go away with a new Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg's former college roommate and co-founder of Facebook posted a fascinating proposal this week: break up the social network and watch the problems start to disappear. 

But would they? Take Instagram and WhatsApp away from Facebook, Inc. and say goodbye to Russian trolls, fake news, privacy invasions and an algorithm that shows what Facebook wants you to see? 

The gist of Hughes' Op-Ed and subsequent media tour among many TV shows is that the government needs to take action on behalf of consumers, as it did with AT&T back in 1984. 

Running for president, candidate Elizabeth Warren agreed with Hughes, weighing in on the side of a breakup, and using the hashtag #BreakUpBigTech. Senator Warren (D-Mass.), who wants to apply the hatchet to Facebook, Google and Amazon, says the big tech firms have "bulldozed competition, used our private info for profit, hurt small businesses and stifled innovation."

Alex Kruglov, the founder of small online video gaming startup pop.in, is with Warren and Hughes. Taking away Instagram and WhatsApp would "create an environment of more competition," he says. 

Snapchat invented the idea of disappearing photos, and when Facebook embraced the idea and tried to buy the company, but was rebuffed, Facebook responded by copying the idea and using it on Instagram. The Instagram Story feature is now used by over 500 million people daily, while Snapchat has under 200 million active daily users. 

Kruglov says situations like this, with government monitoring, would open the playing field and make it fairer. What it wouldn't do is get rid of fake news, trolls and the like, but he believes government regulation that enabled competition would have a natural effect of diluting these voices. 

Just like with regulation of utilities and auto companies, regulation would shift the power from the social network back to users, says Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst with Kaleido Insights. 

He doesn't support the idea of a breakup, however, because that would just create consumer confusion, he says. 

We like connecting via Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, because it makes it easier to use the services, just like we like signing on to websites via Facebook connect. And if Facebook had that taken away, some other company, probably Google, would just swoop in and try to connect everyone via its system, he says. 

 

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