Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth has fallen by nearly $7 billion in a few hours, knocking him down a notch on the list of the world’s richest people after a whistle-blower came forward and outages took Facebook’s flagship products offline.
A sell-off sent the social media giant’s stock plummeting by about 5 per cent on Monday, adding to a drop of about 15 per cent since mid-September.
The stock slide on Monday sent Mr Zuckerberg’s worth down to $120.9bn, dropping him below Bill Gates to number 5 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has lost about $19bn of wealth since September 13, when he was worth nearly $140bn, according to the index.
On September 13, The Wall Street Journal began publishing a series of stories based on a cache of internal documents, revealing that Facebook knew about numerous problems with its products – including Instagram’s harm to teenage girls’ mental health and misinformation about the January 6 Capitol riots – while playing down concerns in public.
The reports have drawn the attention of government officials and on Monday, the whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, revealed her identity on US national television.
Ms Haugen began working for Facebook in 2019 and resigned in April 2021. She leaked internal documents to The Wall Street Journal, other news outlets, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress.
In response, Facebook has emphasised that the problems facing its products, including political polarisation, are complex and not caused by technology alone.
“I think it gives people comfort to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation for the issues of political polarisation in the United States,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, told CNN.
Facebook's massive outage on Monday was a reminder of its monopoly over communications and other services around the world, and it was the latest indicator that the company should be broken up, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter and Instagram.
The Federal Trade Commission has sued Facebook, alleging that the company engaged in an anti-competitive strategy of buying companies, including the photo-sharing service Instagram and the messaging platform WhatsApp, to neutralise them as potential competitors. The FTC initially approved both deals but now says they should be unwound.
“If Facebook’s monopolistic behaviour was checked back when it should’ve been (perhaps around the time it started acquiring competitors like Instagram), the continents of people who depend on WhatsApp & IG for either communication or commerce would be fine right now,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, tweeted. “Break them up.”
The Menlo Park, California-based Facebook was sidelined for several hours by a major outage that left services inaccessible to many of its 2.7 billion global users. The shutdown affected countries around the globe, including in Latin America, where many people rely heavily on WhatsApp for communications.