Yet another executive who worked at Facebook has voiced concerns about how harmful social media has been to society worldwide. Chamath Palihapitiya, who started working with Facebook in the year 2007 and later served as its vice president for the growth of users, stated that he often feels some “tremendous guilt” about his role in helping to create and build the huge social media company. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he expressed to listeners at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. And he said this right before recommending to them that they consider taking a “hard break” from using social media altogether.
Concerns Extend Beyond Facebook
Palihapitiya’s concerns were not just aimed at Facebook, but on the entire online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he points out, making references to online interactions which are being driven by symbols like “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “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.”
He then described a particular incident that happened in India where false messages about kidnappings that were shared on WhatsApp eventually led to the lynching of seven people who were totally innocent. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” stated Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He also discussed how he now uses Facebook very little, and his kids “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” He did point out later though, that he feels that in the end, the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”
Not the Only Concerned Executive
Palihapitiya’s regretful comments have followed a few others who took part in the building of Facebook into the powerhouse corporation of today. In November, an early investor named Sean Parker commented that he is now a “conscientious objector” to using social media, and believes that Facebook along with others only succeeded because of “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Also a former product manager with the company, Antonio Garcia-Martinez, made claims that Facebook lies about the ability it has to influence people because of the data it has gathered on them. He even wrote a book called Chaos Monkeys, outlining his work and experiences with the company.
Ironically, all these former employees have chosen to speak up precisely when worries about the power Facebook has amassed over our society have reached a fever pitch. Over the past year, there were many concerns regarding Facebook’s role within the United States Presidential election. Specifically, there were lots of concerns about its ability to amplify fake news. And there have been additional reports on the role that social media sites have played in regards to atrocities such as the “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya group.
During his talk, Palihapitiya placed blame on the entire venture capital funding system of Silicon Valley, and not just on Facebook. He made the claim that investors are pumping cash into “shitty, useless, idiotic companies,” instead of dealing with real problems such as climate change and diseases. He is currently running his own venture capital firm called Social Capital, which looks for investments in the healthcare and education sectors.