While Facebook’s business is booming and the company continues to expand its tentacles to every corner of the internet, its early employees and investors are growing more and more vocal about the damage it has wrought among its users.
Former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya said that social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave” and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about creating tools that are “ripping apart the social fabric.”
During a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November, Palihapitiya echoed the words of other Facebook dissenters who have recently taken their guilt and grievances public.
“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed … but now you got to decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he warned the audience. He said he didn’t want to be programmed himself, emphasizing he “doesn’t use this shit” and his kids are not allowed to use “this shit” either—also recommending that everyone take a “hard break” from social media.
Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007, and is now the CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital, which he founded in 2011.
“The things that you rely on, the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created, are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth,” he said.
His fear is that bad actors can manipulate large groups of people, and that as users, we compound the problem in our quest to create an idealized version of ourselves:
We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more—admit it—vacant and empty before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like “What’s the next thing I need to do now because I need it back?”
Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, spoke last month about the way the platform exploits human psychology, much in the same terms, and said the founders of the company “understood consciously” what they were doing.
Palihapitiya agreed that “in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds” they knew something bad could happen.