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Former Facebook exec: ‘You don’t realize it but you are being programmed’

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

December 14, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Two former Facebook executives are criticizing the social media platform for its addictive, drug-like effects on users.

“It literally is at a point now, where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” says Chamath Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist who had a hand in building Facebook’s user base.

“That is truly where we are,” he said. “If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you.”

Palihapitiya, who left Facebook in 2011 to start his own socially focused capital fund, told an audience last month at the Stanford Business School that he and those he worked with in building Facebook knew in the back of their minds - despite feigning there couldn’t be bad unintended consequences - that something bad could happen.

Asked his thoughts about the concept of exploiting consumer behavior, Palihapitiya stated, “I feel tremendous guilt.”

“The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” he said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth — and it’s not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So, we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.”

Palihapitiya discussed a WhatsApp hoax that occurred in a rural part of India in May of this year, creating such a panic that innocent people were murdered.

He decried the fact that “bad actors can now manipulate large swaths of people to do anything you want.”

People are curating their lives around “this perceived sense of perfection,” said Palihapitiya, because they get rewarded in short term signals such as hearts, likes, and the 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, and admit it, vacant and empty before you did it,” he told the Stanford crowd. “Because it forces you into this vicious cycle about what’s the next thing I need to do now, because I need it back. And think about that compounded by two billion people.”

“You don’t realize it but you are being programmed,” said Palihapitiya.

Palihapitiya also told the Stanford group that he’s taken the capital he made with Facebook and now focuses it on things he can control, causes he cares about.

Palihapitiya said he can’t control how things have played out, however, “I can control my decisions, which is I don’t use this sh*t. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is they’re not allowed to use this sh*t.”

Facebook issued a statement to defend itself after Palihapitiya’s comments got around online this week, an unusual move for the social media site.

A spokesperson said Palihapitiya had not worked at Facebook for more than six years.

"When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world,” statement said. “Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realised how our responsibilities have grown too."

Palihapitiya’s remarks came around the time of similar thoughts expressed by Facebook’s first president Sean Parker at a November event presented in Philadelphia by the news site Axios.

Parker faulted Facebook for "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology" and said the social media platform was intentionally designed to be addictive.

"It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other," Parker said. "It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences,” he said.

Parker is a former hacker who also founded the file-sharing website Napster. His time at Facebook, where he made billions as an early shareholder, was short. He resigned from the site in 2005 following a cocaine scandal.

Facebook hasn’t been the only platform to manipulate users, though it paved the way.

Parker 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?’”

He explained how each new “like” or comment on a post is like a dopamine hit for users.

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop,” said Parker. “Exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

"The inventors, creators... understood this consciously,” Parker said. “And we did it anyway."

Parker said he had become a "conscientious objector" to Facebook.

"We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve," Facebook's statement continued.

"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.”

"We are also making significant investments more in people, technology and processes, and – as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call – we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made."

Despite the concerns expressed by its former executives, Facebook’s business strategy is forward, the BBC said. 

Last week it launched its first app for children under the age of 13 - Messenger Kids. The younger demographic had previously not been officially permitted on Facebook, though many joined anyway, skirting “the trivial measures preventing them from signing up.”

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