Former Facebook Exec: “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”
Chamath Palihapitiya is a name you may not know unless you are steeped in Silicon Valley culture. He joined Facebook in 2007 — a lifetime ago in tech years — becoming its VP for User Growth.
He’s now the Founder and CEO of Social Capital. In a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he’s now the second former Facebook exec speaking out about the harm social media is doing.
“I feel tremendous guilt,” he said.
“I think we all knew, in the back of our minds… we kind of knew something bad could happen.”
While it wasn’t the goal, an unintended consequence is that social media has changed and shaped society.
“It literally is at a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he said.
He urged the group, who he hailed as future leaders, to think about whether social media should be important. “If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” Palihapitiya said. “If you push back on it and control it, we have a chance to rein it in.”
He said it’s a time people need to consider a “hard break” from some of these tools. “The short term, dopamine-induced feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
“I did great job there (at Facebook),” he said; “And that business does overwhelmingly positive good in the world.” While he said he doesn’t have a good solution, he said his personal solution is to just not use social media, saying it’s caused tension in his personal circles. “I don’t use this sh*t,” he said. “I can control my kids decisions, which is they’re not allowed to use this sh*t.”
“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” he told the group. “It was unintentional, but you’ve got to decide how much you’re willing to give up …of your intellectual independence.”
He’s not the first to speak out about how social media can be a force for good, but it can also cause problems. There are now documented cases of social media addiction. It’s a real thing.
According to Facebook’s first President, it’s no coincidence. Sean Parker started up Napster and later served as Facebook’s President. The billionaire told an audience at Axios in Philadelphia recently that social networks are designed to stimulate and “hook” users.
“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ said Parker. “And that means that 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. That’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments.”
Facebook is geared towards instant gratification. Psychology Today gives a rather in-depth explanation, but the short version is that social media, texting, and even the internet can put you in a “Dopamine loop.”
“Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop.” — Psychology Today
Dopamine begins the “seeking cycle” by rewarding you for interaction or finding information. The reward triggers more dopamine, which starts the loop over again.
Because of the inconsistency of messages — you don’t know exactly when what you want will show up — it can intensify the dopamine release. The brain has more activity when it is anticipating a reward than actually getting one. The “sound” from an incoming email, or text, provides an audible cue that can trigger dopamine as well.
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop,” Parker said. “Exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Former Instagram software engineer Greg Hochmuth described it as the Network effect. The same design qualities that make an app look great and easy to use, he said, may also make it tough to put down. The more popular it becomes, and the more people in your circle use it, the more obsessive it can be, he told the NY Times.
Social media algorithms are designed to show you the stuff you want to see the most. All of it plays right back into the loop. Social media addicts have been shown to exhibit withdrawal symptoms when forced to give up Twitter or Facebook.
To be fair, many of us heard the same thing about television growing up. Maybe for your generation, it was video games that was addicting. Facebook, however, now reports 2.07 billion users. It changes the relationship with society and each other, Parker said.
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” — Sean Parker.
H/T The Verge
Chamath Palihapitiya Photo by Cmichel67 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons