Warren on leaked Zuckerberg audio: '#BreakUpBigTech'

Image: Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a town hall meeting in Iowa City on Sept. 19, 2019. Copyright Charlie Neibergall AP
Copyright Charlie Neibergall AP
By Allan Smith and Sami Sparber with NBC News Tech and Science News
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Zuckerberg told employees that if a President Warren threatened to break up Facebook, "you go to the mat and you fight." Warren responded, "It's time to #BreakUpBigTech."


Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., hit back at Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday after it was revealed that he recently told employees he'd "go to the mat" and fight if the senator were elected president and sought to break up the company.

Warren was responding to comments Zuckerberg made to Facebook employees during a recent Q&A session. Zuckerberg's remarks were recorded and leaked to The Verge. In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg confirmed the authenticity of the comments.

Warren seized on Zuckerberg's words in retorting on Twitter.

"What would really 'suck' 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," Warren tweeted. She added in a second tweet: "I'm not afraid to hold Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon accountable. It's time to #BreakUpBigTech."

Many of Zuckerberg's responses from the session mirror what the company has said publicly, though his language offered a less polished version of most of the company's press releases.

"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," Zuckerberg wrote. "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 like social responsibility, breaking up tech companies, Libra, neural computing interfaces, and doing the right thing over the long term."

In those remarks, Zuckerberg said he is "certainly more worried that someone is going to try to break up our company," but questioned their ability to do so.

"So there might be a political movement where people are angry at the tech companies or are worried about concentration or worried about different issues and worried that they're not being handled well," Zuckerberg said. "That doesn't mean that, even if there's anger and that you have someone like Elizabeth Warren who thinks that the right answer is to break up the companies ... I mean, 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. And does that still suck for us? Yeah."

"I mean, I don't want to have a major lawsuit against our own government," he continued. "I mean, that's not the position that you want to be in … It's like, we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things. 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."

Zuckerberg said he did not believe that "the case" to break up the company was "particularly strong."

"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. It doesn't make any of the hate speech or issues like that less likely. It makes it more likely because now ... all the processes that we're putting in place and investing in, now we're more fragmented."

Zuckerberg called "the direction of the discussion" of government regulation of big tech "concerning."

"There are real issues," he said. "I don't think that the antitrust remedies are going to solve them. But I understand that if we don't help address those issues and help put in place a regulatory framework where people feel like there's real accountability, and the government can govern our sector, then yeah, people are just going to keep on getting angrier and angrier. And they're going to demand more extreme measures, and, eventually, people just say, 'Screw it, take a hammer to the whole thing.' And that's when the rule of law comes in, and I'm very grateful that we have it."

Zuckerberg's comments come as Warren, who has pledged to break up a series of major tech giants, has surged in the Democratic primary field. Some recent national and state-level polls have put her in first place among the Democratic primary field or in many cases locked in a neck-and-neck battle with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Regarding Facebook, Warren seeks to have Facebook relinquish its ownership of WhatsApp and Instagram.

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