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Pete Buttigieg was Facebook's 287th user. Now he says the company has too much power

Casey Tolan, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When Pete Buttigieg joined Facebook as a Harvard undergrad in 2004, he was the 287th user registered on the site. The social network's founders were friends of friends, and it felt like an insular message board for Harvard classmates, he remembered in an interview in San Francisco last week.

"I don't think any of us could have guessed what implications that technology would have in the long run," Buttigieg said.

Fifteen years and 2.4 billion users later, as Facebook wrestles with cascading scandals over data privacy, misinformation and election meddling on its platform, Buttigieg has become one of several presidential contenders calling for tougher regulation of the company and Silicon Valley's other biggest tech firms.

The debate over Facebook's future took on new resonance last week as one of the company's co-founders, Chris Hughes, published a New York Times op-ed calling for the tech giant to be broken up. Buttigieg said Hughes, his former Harvard classmate, "made a very convincing case" that no company "should have the type of power that... these tech companies have."

But unlike Sen. Elizabeth Warren, he hasn't endorsed breaking up the tech giants, instead suggesting "a spectrum" of regulation that could include fines, blocking new mergers or splitting up companies. That's attracted criticism from some on the left who want the candidates to take a strong stance on issues of corporate power.

Buttigieg's vaguer position comes as the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., has courted support from Silicon Valley, attending a packed schedule of fundraisers around the Valley and San Francisco on Friday.

 

In the first three months of 2019, Buttigieg received at least $27,250 in donations from employees of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, the fifth-highest total among the Democrats running for president. Hughes also gave him $2,700 (while donating to several other 2020 Democrats as well). Meanwhile, his campaign has spent about $181,000 on Facebook ads, less than a fifth of the amount spent by Sens. Kamala Harris or Warren.

"Here in the Bay Area, we've been waiting for a new generation that is going to redefine politics, and I think Pete's going to do it," said Adam Hundt, a tech worker who met Buttigieg in college and co-hosted one of his fundraisers. "Tech is all about change, and the way Pete has an open mind and embraces change makes him a natural fit."

Buttigieg was two years ahead of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the Ivy League school, and was a senior when Zuckerberg, Hughes and their co-founders launched the site from a dorm room. Buttigieg's account is the 287th on the network (although a few of those before him were created as tests) -- if you go to facebook.com/287 while signed into Facebook, the Harvard grad's original page, which he still updates, will pop up.

At the time, following his friends on Facebook felt like "a curiosity," and an improvement over services like MySpace, Friendster or AIM, Buttigieg said. In recent years, he's used his page to share photos from his deployment to Afghanistan in the Navy Reserve and post pictures and videos of life in South Bend. (He has separate pages for his presidential campaign and mayor's office.)

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