Former Facebook executive feels ‘tremendous guilt’ for creating a tool that's ‘ripping apart' social fabric

Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya warns us against the evil of social media.

  • Published: December 12, 2017 10:08 AM IST
Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1

While Facebook’s business is currently booming with over two billion monthly active users across the globe, the company’s former employees are raising voice against the potential damage the platform can bring or has already brought to its users.

Former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya has said that social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave” and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about creating tools that are “ripping apart the social fabric.” Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2005, and is now the CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital, which he founded in 2011.

You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed…

During a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palihapitiya said, “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.”

He said he didn’t want to be programmed himself, emphasizing he “doesn’t use this shit” and his kids are not allowed to use “this shit” either—also recommending that everyone take a “hard break” from social media.

Palihapitiya acknowledges being a part of the creation of the platforms, and tries to break down for his audience the magnitude of the ill that social media could cause. “The things that you rely on, the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” Palihapitiya said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem—this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya.

His concern is, and rightly so, that one bad element can manipulate large groups of people, and that as users, we compound the problem in our quest to create an idealized version of ourselves. He said, “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, 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—admit it—vacant and empty before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like “What’s the next thing I need to do now because I need it back?””

Palihapitiya’s apprehension was shared by Facebook’s first president Sean Parker last month, who opened up about his regrets over helping create social media as we know it today. “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. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Besides him, former product manager at the company, Antonio Garcia-Martinez, has also said that Facebook lies about its ability to influence individuals based on the data it collects on them, and wrote a book about his work and experience at the company, titled Chaos Monkeys.

Unfortunately or not, Palihapitiya admitted at the event, that during the creation of Facebook, they all “knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences.”

  • Published Date: December 12, 2017 10:08 AM IST