For years, he was a top executive at Facebook.
Now, though, Facebook’s former vice president for user growth is sounding the alarm about how the social media company and others are “destroying how society works.” Chamath Palihapitiya, who held the user growth role until 2011, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about it.
“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” Palihapitiya said at a Stanford Graduate School of Business event in November, referring in part to how the desire to rack up “likes” drives almost addictive user engagement. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.”
Palihapitiya isn’t alone in critiquing the company he helped build into an online, global monolith with billions of users. Earlier in November, Facebook founding president Sean Parker said at an event hosted by the media company Axios that he’s become “something of a conscientious objector” to social media, admitting he didn’t fully understand the consequences online platforms like Facebook and Twitter would have on society.
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“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said at the event.
That’s a concern Palihapitiya echoed at his Stanford talk. But as he put it, Facebook and other social media companies aren’t just impacting children — they’re rewiring everyone’s brains.
“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” Palihapitiya said at the Stanford event.
The criticism comes at a time when Facebook is facing increasing scrutiny, in particular following the role it played in helping shape the 2016 election campaign. Russian-linked Facebook posts reached 126 million Americans during the campaign, The Verge reported in October, or about half of all U.S. Facebook users.
“No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth,” Palihapitiya said, citing the influence Facebook can have on society. “And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”
Palihapitiya advised the audience at Stanford to take a “hard break” from social media, adding that he rarely uses it — and that he won’t let his kids use it, either.
“They’re not allowed to use this s--t,” Palihapitiya said.
Palihapitiya left Facebook in 2011 to start a venture capital fund investing in everything from technology and healthcare to education and financial services, TechCruch reports.
When he left the social media juggernaut, TechCrunch reported, Palihapitiya wrote a note on Facebook telling fellow employees that he would be leaving “with incredible hope for how you will continue to make this place awesome.”
As of June, Facebook had 2 billion users worldwide, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg wrote on the social network.
The company hit 1 billion users in October 2012, Zuckerberg said, meaning it doubled its number of users in just under five years.
Zuckerberg acknowledged in June that such a wide user base (there are about 7.4 billion people in the world, according to the U.S. Census) comes with “responsibility.”
But former executives like Palihapitiya and Parker had said that understanding of Facebook’s responsibility — and Facebook’s potential implications for society — is coming too late.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” Parker said at the Axios event.