If you’re seeing this on Facebook right now, it applies to you.
Chamath Palihapitiya started working for Facebook back in 2007, as their vice-president of user growth. He’s since left the company, and is now trying to warn the world about the dangers of social media.
The most recent reports from 2017 estimate Facebook has over two billion monthly users. Considering there are only about 7.5 billion people on Earth, that’s a lot of users. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest join Facebook as the top five most popular social media outlets (in the U.S.).
In late 2017, Palihapitiya spoke to Stanford MBA students about how he thinks social media (not just Facebook) is negatively affecting the world we live in.
(You can watch the interview here, but know that you may find the language inappropriate at points.)
“The short-term dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth,” he said in his speech.
Palihapitiya goes on to explain how social media can unitentionally program its users, oftentimes for the worse.
“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 that with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short term. And that leaves you even more … vacant and empty [than] 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.’ Think about that compounded by two billion people,” Palihapitiya said.
Indeed, a comparison to drug use is all too fitting for some individuals. While not something that is currently medically diagnosable, several programs do already exist aimed specifically at treating social media addiciton.
In the speech, Palihapitiya cited an incident that occured in the Indian state, Jharkhand, back in May, 2017, to support his point. Fake Whatsapp messages led some villagers to believe certain people were kidnappers. The villagers allegedly formed a mob, found and killed the seven people implicated in the fake messages.
This is just one instance of the unintended negative consequences of social media. “Imagine … when you take that to the extreme, where, you know, bad actors can manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want,” he said.
Speaking of the people behind the creation of major social platforms, Palihapitiya said, “I think we all knew in the back of our minds … we kind of knew something bad could happen.” And later, “It is a point in time where people need to hard break from some of these tools.”
Palihapitiya’s comments have gained enough attention online that CNBC even had him on their show to further explain what he meant:
Palihapitiya does throw a bone to Facebook, mentioning that amongst major social media outlets he believes Facebook has done the most to correct the damage being done, and admits that outside the issue, Facebook does a monumental amount of good in the world.
In a response to their former employee, Facebook itself says they’ve been trying to adapt to protect their community, even at the expense of profits.
What are your thoughts?
There are obviously plenty of pros and cons on every side of the issue, but the question remains – will the pros prevail, or the cons?
“My solution,” Palihapitiya says, “is I just don’t use these tools anymore.”
What do you think? Does social media do more harm than good? Let us know in the comments.
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