The moment Sean Parker suggested Mark Zuckerberg drop “The” in “The Facebook” was the moment that changed the world as we know it. For the better or for the worse is still up for debate though.
With over two billion users, the social media platform has permeated today’s society in heights unforeseen. Today, the way we make friends, communicate, promote ourselves and our brands, entertain and be entertained, are all influenced by Facebook and other social media platforms. Its undeniable impact on people also begs to question if its influence on society is good or bad. Many experts have studied its negative effects, but social media founders and practitioners always find a way to defend their cause. Until now.
Earlier this month, former Facebook Vice President for User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, spoke against the platform, noting its harmful effects on society around the world. The executive spoke to a crowd at the Stanford Graduate School of Business wherein he shared his “tremendous guilt” for what he helped establish with the Palo Alto company. The exec is the second former employee of the platform who has spoken about the negative effects Facebook and social media has on society.
Palihapitiya admits creating “tools that are ripping apart” society
“We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are,” the 41-year-old venture capitalist told the audience during a talk on November 10, 2017.
Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007. At that time, the company was still in its early-yet-booming stages, having been launched in 2004. What started as a platform exclusive to Harvard students, created by Mark Zuckerberg in his dormitory room, soon exploded into a country-wide phenomenon. Before everyone knew it, people from all over the world were getting hooked.
When he joined the company, the former VP admitted that there wasn’t really much thought put into the long-term negative effects of the platform. As they built the network, they made themselves believe that no negative consequences will come out of what now seems as exploitation of consumer psychology.
“I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen,” he revealed.
While social media, as a whole, has helped bridge people from thousands of miles away, Palihapitiya admits that it has taught the community to be impatient. Driven by likes and hearts, people now turn to social media for instant gratification, “eroding the core foundations of how people behave.”
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”
The Golden State Warriors owner did praise Facebook for the overwhelming good it does for the world, but the damaging effects have pushed him to stop using the tool. And he encourages people to take a “hard break” from Facebook and other social media platforms as well.
Sean Parker, a “conscientious objector” of social media
Even before Palihapitiya made his claims, Sean Parker already made his thoughts about social networking known. The infamous former Facebook president attended an Axios event in Philadelphia earlier in November where he acknowledged the “unintended consequences” of the platform he helped grow.
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways.”
Parker noted that Facebook is “a social-validation feedback loop,” and exploits a vulnerability in people’s psychology. He likens social media to having a dopamine hit whenever someone gets a like or comment. Much like other substances, once the high subsides, users want to take another hit to feel elated and elevated again.
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker, who is now founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, said.
Facebook admits mental health adverse effects
Defending itself from all the negative claims about its platform, Facebook responded to its former VP clarifying that things have been different since Palihapitiya left the company. A spokesperson for the company told The Verge that when the former exec was with FB, they were solely focused on “building new social media experiences” and establishing the brand across the world. However, over the years, as the platform grew, “we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too.”
“We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We’ve done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we’re using it to inform our product development,” the spokesperson explained.
A recent journal published by the social media giant, however, confirmed that depending on the use of their platform, Facebook could indeed affect mental health negatively. “Passively consuming” information — like reading posts on the newsfeed — without interacting with other Facebook users could lead to depression and lower self-esteem.
A UC San Diego and Yale study revealed that people who simply browsed through their feeds — liking posts and clicking on links — are more inclined to have negative social comparison than those who post on their walls often.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also released a similar study wherein it confirmed that social media use may lead to “Facebook Depression” among adolescents. The term coined by the researchers pertain to the depression that preteens and teens develop when they spend time on the platform.
“Acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents,” the journal noted. It added that “Facebook Depression” may lead to substance abuse and self-destructive behavior.
To address such issues, Facebook has been taking steps to make its ecosystem a safe one. It has been employing the help of social psychologists, sociologists, and social scientists to establish an environment where the network contributes in a positive way. So far, it has added the “On This Day” feature which shows memories with friends and encourages user interaction. It has also positioned itself as a venue for goodwill and humanitarian work through fundraisers for disaster relief.
CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg says the company wants “the time people spend on Facebook to encourage meaningful social interactions.” Moreover, the company promised users that they are willing to reduce their profitability to “make sure the right investments are made.”
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