Read: Breaking up Facebook isn’t enough
Even Zuckerberg’s company, measured by traditional means, is merely strong. Facebook is not among the top 75 revenue-generating companies. It has roughly as many employees as the Arizona mining company Freeport-McMoran and the steelmaker Nucor, or roughly 0.01 percent as many as Walmart. Facebook’s profits land it in the top 15 companies, and its market value is in the top 10 on its perceived potential for growth. Taken as a whole in the context of the global economy, Facebook looks like a very profitable, high-potential company, but it does not stand out on any one metric. (The Saudi oil company Aramco, for example, generated $224 billion in profits in 2018.)
But few companies are as tightly controlled by one person as Facebook is. The company came of age during an era of Silicon Valley in which founders retained remarkable control over their enterprises. By creating different classes of shares with different voting power, Zuckerberg has retained operational control while still selling shares of his company. “Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares,” Hughes notes in the essay. Even the Ford family, which famously created an unusual dual-class share structure in the 1930s, only holds 40 percent voting control of the company. When it comes to Walmart, another unusually closely held operation, the Walton family owns fewer than 50 percent. And these are families, with their own conflicts and competing interests. Zuckerberg is both the chief executive and holds the majority of voting shares. There is no institutional check on Zuckerberg.
Yet his power is great. Hughes is correct that we’ve never seen anything like it. Mark Zuckerberg controls Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—three of the five most popular communication tools on the planet, alongside Alphabet’s YouTube and Tencent’s WeChat. In many countries, Zuckerberg’s products are the internet. They are the media for information dispersal—like a newspaper or television channel—as well as for peer-to-peer communications, like an old-school telecom network. They are also a crucial ligature for small businesses, as internet home, customer-service desk, and advertising platform, and for direct sales through tools such as Facebook Marketplace.
Who is Zuckerberg like? The best parallels might be the newspaper barons, such as William Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdoch. But it’s more like if all three broadcast-television networks of the 20th century were owned by the same person, in one corporation that he completely controlled, and that also was the central venue for political speech and finding an electrician. Or maybe, as we’ve argued, he’ll be this generation’s Bob Moses, who, in his quest to remake New York, first acquired power through building, and then by any means necessary.