Technology

Sean Parker Warns That Facebook Exploits Human Psychology

Sean Parker, who was Facebook’s founding president, had some very disturbing words to say about the company’s platform. He says Facebook was designed to exploit a major human “vulnerability,” and he’s gotten so concerned about the platform’s strength that he decided to speak out about it.

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Sean Parker expresses concern about Facebook

In a very candid interview with Axios, Sean Parker explained how Facebook and other social networks get their hooks into users—potentially hurting our brains in the process. He asserted that he helped create a monster and suggested jokingly that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg might ban his account after the interview.

Sean Parker founded the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and he spoke with Axios at its event this week at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. The event was focused on speeding up innovations in cancer, but Parker said he has also become “something of a conscious objector” where social media is concerned.

Consequences of social media

Sean Parker told Axios that in Facebook’s early days, people would tell him that they weren’t on social media because they valued the interactions they had in real life, including intimacy and presence. He also told them at the time, “We’ll [Facebook] get you eventually.”

He doesn’t feel that he fully understood the consequences of what was saying to people. Now he sees that when any social network grows to 1 billion or 2 billion uses, it changes users’ relationship “with society” and also with each other. He believes that it “probably interferes with productivity in weird ways” and had some even more dangerous assertions about it.

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he added.

His commentary is eerily in line with a study that suggested Facebook is addictive because it indicates that social media was designed to be addictive—from the ground up. Another study suggested in 2016 that Facebook has effects on the brain that are similar to those triggered by gambling and cocaine use. His comments are also in line with studies that have been tied Facebook use with depression and other mental health problems over the years.

How Facebook was built

Sean Parker also explained their thought process as they went about building Facebook and how other social networks are built. He said they started with a simple question: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” The basis of time consumption is what he describes as a “social-validation feedback loop.” He also called their thought process “exactly the kind of thing that a hacker” would come up with and explained that they were basically “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

“We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever,” he told Axios. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

According to Parker, the creators of all the world’s biggest social networks consciously understood this vulnerability and how to exploit it, but they “did it anyway.”

Russia may have tried to exploit human psychology

The creators of social networks aren’t the only ones who apparently understand how to exploit this “vulnerability in human psychology,” as could be evidenced by Russia’s apparent use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. It’s been about a year since President Trump won the presidential election, and Facebook was one of the first social media firms to report that Russia appears to have tried to use ads to influence Americans’ thinking.

About 126 million Facebook users saw the ads that were run by Russia-backed accounts. But Moscow’s attempts to influence social media may not have stopped at advertising as it even invested in Facebook and Twitter, although the companies have downplayed any alleged involvement.