Another ominous warning about the spread of social media comes from another former Facebook executive. This time Chamath Palihapitiya is sounding the alarm bells, and his warnings build upon those of Sean Parker, founding president of the social media firm. Parker said last month that Facebook was designed to purposely exploit our psychology, and according to Palihapitiya, social media destroys society.
Social media destroys society through dopamine
Palihapitiya told students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that social media destroys society days after Parker made his comments, but The Verge just surfaced Palihapitiya’s commentary today. The full interview at Stanford is embedded below.
He mentioned the “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops” that Parker had said Facebook was built to exploit. However, he added that these loops are having unintended consequence that are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The two former Facebook executives are referring to what happens in the brain when someone likes or engages with our posts on social media. Each “like” or other online interaction triggers what Parker described as “a little dopamine hit.”
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A second, related way social media destroys society, according to Palihapitiya, is by averting “civil discourse” and cooperation.
Another way social media destroys society: fake news
He also mentioned fake news, which also has become a growing problem, thanks to social media in part. The former Facebook executive recalled seven innocent people who were lynched as a result of hoax messages regarding some kidnappings. He warned that the problems could become much larger and that “bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything” they want them to. U.S. authorities are already investigating one such case, which is that of alleged meddling in the 2016 elections via politically-linked ads run by Russian advertisers on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and others.
Palihapitiya feels “tremendous guilt” over his role in making Facebook what it is now, and he won’t allow his children to use it at all, even though he has raked in millions of dollars from the time he spent there. While he worked there, he served as vice president of user growth, so he most certainly understands how social media is designed to reel people in and keep them there.
The social network now has about 2 billion users, and one thing Parker had said previously was that they designed the platform with the goal of consuming as much of users’ time as possible. Facebook is now specifically targeting children to get them onto Messenger before the age of 13 through a kids’ version of the platform.
The comments of both former Facebook executives come long after multiple studies have been done on the changes that occur in the brain while using social media. One likened the effects to gambling and cocaine addiction and another tying social media use to depression and mental health problems. However, now that billions of people around the globe are hooked, it’s hard to imagine that warning people that social media destroys society will have much of an impact at all.