Former Facebook president Sean Parker says the creators of social media apps preyed on human vulnerabilities.
Speaking at an Axios event yesterday, Mr Parker talked about how the inventors’ consciously aimed to exploit weaknesses in human psychology.
“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?'”
“And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments.
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop, exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.
“The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [!zuckerberg!], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”
Even more alarming is the fact that Mr Parker — who now identifies as a conscientious objector on social media — suggests it could be doing irreparable damage to young minds.
“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I'm not on social media'. And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be'.
“And then they would say, ‘No, no, no, I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy'. And I would say, ‘We'll get you eventually.'
“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 two billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other.
“It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains.”
Not the first to speak up
Sean Parker isn’t the first to talk openly about fearing the monster he helped create.
Former product manager at Google, Tristan Harris, talked to Wired earlier this year about technology’s ability to hijack minds.
“Technology steers what two billion people are thinking and believing every day. It’s possibly the largest source of influence over two billion people’s thoughts that has ever been created,” he said.
“Religions and governments don’t have that much influence over people’s daily thoughts.
Religions and governments don’t have that much influence over people’s daily thoughts.
“But we have three technology companies who have this system that frankly they don’t even have control over — with newsfeeds and recommended videos and whatever they put in front of you, which is governing what people do with their time and what they’re looking at.”
The Guardian spoke with Loren Brichter, the designer who created the slot machine-like pull-down-to-refresh mechanism on smartphones.
He says he is constantly plagued by negative thoughts about the ramifications of his invention.
“I’ve spent many hours and weeks and months and years thinking about whether anything I’ve done has made a net positive impact on society or humanity at all… Pull-to-refresh is addictive. Twitter is addictive. These are not good things,” he said.
“When I was working on them, it was not something I was mature enough to think about. I’m not saying I’m mature now, but I’m a little bit more mature, and I regret the downsides.”