Former Facebook Exec: 'You Don't Realise It But You Are Being Programmed'

This is the year everyone - including founding executives - began publicly questioning the impact of social media on our lives.

Photo: Getty

Last month, Facebook's first president Sean Parker 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 two 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."

Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth, also recently expressed his concerns. During a recent public discussion at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palihapitiya - who worked at Facebook from 2005 to 2011 - told the audience, "I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works."

Some of his comments seem to echo Parker's concern. Parker has said (emphasis ours) social media creates "a social-validation feedback loop" by giving people "a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever".

Just days after Parker made those comments, Palihapitiya told the Stanford audience, "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."

It's as if Parker and Palihapitiya got together at a bar that week to work out their inner demons. When the host asked Palihapitiya if he was doing any soul searching in regards to his role in building Facebook, he responded: "I feel tremendous guilt. I think we 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. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen. But I think the way we defined it was not like this."

He went on to explain what "this" is:

So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don't have a good solution. My solution is I just don't use these tools anymore. I haven't for years.

Speaking more broadly on the subject of social media, Palihapitiya said he doesn't use social media because he "innately didn't want to get programmed". As for his kids: "They're not allowed to use this shit."

Then he got even more fired up: "Your behaviours - you don't realise it but you are being programmed. It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you are willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence," he told the students in the crowd. "And don't think, 'Oh yeah, not me, I'm fucking genius, I'm at Stanford.' You're probably the most likely to fucking fall for it. 'Cause you are fucking check-boxing your whole goddamn life."

Oh boy. Nobody show this to Alex Jones.




    Don’t use social media, problem solved.

      Yeah, I don't see the point. Tried once, thought it was shit and stopped. So glad that I did.

      But it's really more of a concern for current and future parents.
      Sure adults who had existed before social media can easily turn around and say nope and switch off but try telling that to some teenager who has literally been online their entire life and has based their entire social life and view of the world through the lens of facebook and twitter.
      Those are the people a risk.

      And I say this as a 30 yr old. But for people in their mid 20's who could have had a facebook account in primary school? Much more ingrained.

      Last edited 12/12/17 6:37 pm

        I’ve literally been exposed to television my whole life and I have no problem switching it off.

        But then, I’m lucky to have had parents who didn’t sit me in front of the tv so they could have peace and quiet. Instead they spent time with us, being parents.

        Like sugar, internet access is very easily regulated in children. Just don’t give it to them. By the time they get to five or six, offer th some soft drink/internet and they’ll be more interested in some water/books...

    Jesus, after all the bullshit that's been brought forward about facebook and let's face it quite a few other social sites, you'd think some of it would be sinking in! Clearly though, it just doesn't matter because people and I include myself in this, are friggin idiots, just simple-minded sheep in the end. I fear we all deserve the future we've committed ourselves to.

    He's partly right but also being a little silly.Overall it's too much like conspiracy theory.Very few people get bad social issues from using FB.

    OTOH how could he talk about FB and not mention the massive proportion of lies being passed around there?! No kidding, about 3/4 of the factoids being shared are raging bull shit.Surely we should be worrying about that?

      He's 100% right, you may have missed the point.
      I manage a number of large facebook pages for clients as part of my career, let me tell you now after a while you do notice the behavioral patterns emerge as mentioned in the article, it's really not good, knowing the things you learn on the job makes life unenjoyable...

        Yeah working with social media is a big part of the reason I don’t use it personally. I also find that, as an outsider, you become acutely aware of the programming for the week just by listening to social media users’ conversations with each other. You just need to check the feed once in a while and then you can predict what they’ll be talking about...

    Much ado about nothing. If you're raising your kids to be obsessed with the sorts of "validation" they can get on social then you're misguided anyway.

    It's human nature. If you're at the pub with your mates and you tell a joke you want them to laugh. Social is just another channel for this type of communication.

      Yes but if you use social media you’re far less likely to go to the pub and tell the joke to your mates. That’s kind of the point: when you have a dopamine delicery device sitting in your pocket, there is no incentive to be kind in real life because your pocket has the only fix you need.

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