- Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, has been sharply critical of the social network, accusing it of exploiting human “vulnerability.” “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said. His comments are part of a wave of tech figures expressing disillusionment and concern about the products they helped build.
Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, has a disturbing warning about the social network: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Speaking to the news website Axios, the entrepreneur and executive talked openly about what he perceives as the dangers of social media and how it exploits human “vulnerability.”
“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?'” said Parker, who joined Facebook in 2004, when it was less than a year old.
“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,” he told Axios. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
Parker added: "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."
"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," he said. "And we did it anyway."
Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
Some in tech are growing disillusioned - and worried
Parker isn't the only tech figure to express disillusionment and worry by what they helped create. Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, has been outspoken in his criticism of how tech companies' products hijack users' minds.
"If you're an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine," he wrote in a widely shared Medium post in 2016.
"We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first," he continued. "People's time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights."
In a recent feature, The Guardian spoke to tech workers and industry figures who have been critical of Silicon Valley business practices.
Loren Brichter, the designer who created the slot-machine-like pull-down-to-refresh mechanism now widely used on smartphones, said, "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."
Brichter added: "Pull-to-refresh is addictive. Twitter is addictive. These are not good things. 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."
And Roger McNamee, an investor in Facebook and Google, told The Guardian: "The people who run Facebook and Google are good people, whose well-intentioned strategies have led to horrific unintended consequences ... The problem is that there is nothing the companies can do to address the harm unless they abandon their current advertising models."
The comments from Parker and others are further evidence of souring public sentiment about Silicon Valley. Once lauded in utopian terms, companies like Facebook have now come under heavy criticism over their role in the spread of "fake news" and Russian propaganda.