Chamath Palihapitiya, a former executive at Facebook and a venture capitalist involved in the social networking revolution since its beginning, said he feels “tremendous guilt” for the unintended impact of Facebook and other social networking companies on society.
In a recent talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palihapitiya, a former head of AOL’s instant messaging division who joined Facebook in 2005 and later left to start a venture capital firm in 2011, said the social-networking tools he helped create are “ripping apart the social fabric.”
“I think we all knew in the back of our minds, even though we feigned this whole line of there probably aren’t any really bad unintended consequences, I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of our mind we kind of knew something bad could happen,” he said. “But I think the way we defined it was not like this.
“It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.”
Palihapitiya urged the audience to “really internalize how important this is.”
“If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” he said. “If you push back on it, we have a chance to control it and rein it in. And it is a point in time where people need to hard brake from some of these tools and the things that you rely on.
“The short-term, dopamine driven feedback … that we have created are destroying how society works.”
A recent study in the United Kingdom found social networking to be more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol and highly correlated with a staggering rise in the rates of anxiety and depression among young people.
Social networking is also fostering societal problems previous generations could never have imagined, such as students searching for their teachers online and finding sexually explicit material
Palihapitiya said social networking, even though it theoretically makes it possible for people to more quickly share ideas, is actually prohibiting real communication.
“No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth – and it’s not an American problem,” he said. “This is not about ‘Russian ads.’ This is a global problem.
“So, we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other, and I don’t have a good solution.”
Palihapitiya said he tries not to use social networking sites, but going without them comes with costs.
“It’s created huge tensions with my friends, huge tensions in my social circles,” he observed, saying he’s posted fewer than 10 times on his Facebook feed in the past several years.
“It’s weird, I guess innately I just didn’t want to get programmed, and so I just tuned it out. But I didn’t confront it. And now, to see what’s happening, it really bums me out.”
“Bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want,” said Palihapitiya. “It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.
“And we compound the problem, right?” he continued, seemingly growing more emotional. “We curate our lives against 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 it with truth.
“And instead what it really is is fake brittle popularity that’s short term and that leaves you, even more, and, admit it, vacant and empty 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 2 billion people, and then think about how people react then to the perceptions of others. It’s just really bad. It’s really, really bad.”