For those of us who use social media, we’ve all experienced the familiar “I’ll pop onto [insert platform of choice] for a minute, just to see what’s going on” and then realize, hours later, we’re still scrolling through our news feed, clicking the like icon or having our blood pressure rise by a troll’s diatribe or some other unpleasant post.
Regardless that a Harvard study has established social media platforms are highly addictive – and as pleasurable to the brain’s reward center as food, money and sex – I still often curse my lack of self-control and wasted hours where these sites are concerned.
Although I’m well-aware of the dark underbelly of social media, it’s surprising to see two former Facebook executives — former President Sean Parker, and former Vice President for User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya — very publicly announce that Facebook is “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” and that it’s specifically designed to exploit human vulnerability and psychology.
Cultivating a Culture of Impatience and ‘Fake Brittle Popularity’
During an Axios event in Philadelphia last year, Parker warns that Facebook was intentionally designed to consume as much of our time and attention possible. Using manipulative psychology, the platform is structured in such a way to give you a little dopamine hit for each like and share, which in turn encourages you to contribute more content and interaction.
“It’s a social validation feedback loop… the creators [of Facebook] understood this consciously, and we did it anyway.”
Palihapitiya agrees. In a recent talk he gave to students of the graduate business school at Stanford University, he states:
“The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, [and] mistruth. And this is not an American problem; this is not about Russian ads; this is a global problem.”
He says he feels tremendous guilt for the role he played in developing these tools that are ripping society apart.
“So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by, and between, each other.” Palihapitiya said. “You know, my solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years. It’s created huge tension with my friends. Huge tensions in my social circles.”
In short, he didn’t want to become programmed — and his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit” either. He strongly recommends that everyone take a “hard break” from these platforms.
“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.”
Moreover, Palihapitiya believes social media platforms have encouraged our society to be extremely impatient, fostering the expectation of instant gratification. They also strengthen our “perceived sense of perfection” with short-term signals: hearts, likes, thumbs up, which we confuse with true value.