Many of us spend way too much of our time browsing through social media. Researchers have found that the average person has five social media accounts under their name, and spend 100 minutes per day browsing through these sites. Of course, the king of all social media is Facebook, which took the social media platform mainstream and away from just being between teenagers.
One of the key players in the early days of Facebook was Chamath Palihapitiya, a Sri-Lankan-born venture capitalist that joined Facebook in 2005 after previously working for AOL as the company’s head of instant messaging. In 2011, Palihapitiya left Facebook and started his own company called Social Capital. Looking back at his time with Facebook, Palihapitiya now expresses regret.
Palihapitiya said that Facebook has created a rift in society, causing people to be divisive. This has never been more true than when it comes to politics, especially the controversial 2016 Presidential election that saw many targeted ads and fake users being brought onto Facebook. Many were found to be Russian plants that were brought in to help sway the election.
“Even though we feigned this whole line of, like, ‘There probably aren’t any really bad unintended consequences,’ I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen,” he said. “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.”
Palihapitiya claimed that Facebook’s intention was to give people a “fake” and “brittle” form of popularity. Once the likes died down from one post, someone would feel inclined to post another to get that sense of self satisfaction to return. This became a “vicious circle” for users according to Palihapitiya, one that’s still holding true today.
“If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” Palihapitiya he said in front of a crowd. “If you push back on it, we have a chance to control it and rein it in. It is a point in time where people need a hard break from some of these tools and 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, (just) misinformation (and) mistruth.”
Palihapitiya isn’t the only former Facebook bigwig to be worried about the social media site’s impact on society. Former Facebook president Sean Parker echoed similar sentiments. He said that addiction was the focus of Facebook, and that he was able to hide those true feeling for many years. They knew what they were doing, “and we did it anyway,” he said.
“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?” Parker said. He added that Facebook “literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Between international intervention into politics and changing how society operates, Palihapitiya says that there’s only one way that you can return things to normalcy, and that’s just by walking away from social media. “My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore,” he said. “I haven’t for years. It’s created huge tension with my friends…I guess I kind of innately didn’t want to get programmed.”
Facebook actually released a statement about Palihapitiya’s comments, saying that he hadn’t worked there for years, and that the company had changed since time there. “As we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too,” the statement read. “We take our role very seriously and we are working had to improve…We are also making significant investments in more people technology and processes and…we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.”
As Facebook is a publicly traded company, many are skeptical that they’d be willing to cut back on profits to help reverse some of the damage to society that Palihapitiya claims they’ve made. With literally billions of people using Facebook, there are a lot of people that are part of the machine. Palihapitiya’s advice is that if you feel yourself using Facebook too much, delete your account for good and don’t look back. After all, he doesn’t even let his children use social media these days for fear of addiction.