Sean Parker, an early investor of Facebook and its first founding president, said the social network's founders deliberately created it to become addictive.
"God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains," Parker said in an Axios interview published Thursday, Nov. 9. He added that each "like" or "comment," is a dopamine hit, exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology on purpose to keep Facebook users hooked.
It puts users under a "social-validation feedback loop," said Parker, something that "a hacker like myself would come up with."
Facebook's Shady Principles
At an Axios event in Philadelphia, Parker noted he has become a "conscientious objector" on social media, though he maintains accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Parker, current chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, said that the investors and creators — especially Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom, and himself — were all conscious of the so-called validation loop. Yet "we did it anyway."
By Parker's definition, Facebook is akin to feeling good or receiving instant gratification after small hits of feedback — then wanting more afterward. Using Facebook, as The Verge points out, is quick and easy but yields very little substance. It's an oversimplified definition of addiction, but it otherwise falls into that category. Of course, no authorities currently acknowledge Facebook as a legitimate form of addiction.
Vying For Your Attention
Parker revealed that when they were laying out the building blocks of Facebook, they tried to determine how it could consume as much of people's attention as possible. That involves giving users "a little dopamine hit" each time another user likes, comments, or interacts with them.
"And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you . . . more likes and comments," said Parker.
Parker's comments, though revelatory, come off as somewhat ironic, given that he has reaped billions off Facebook from being an early investor. But this isn't the first time a someone from Silicon Valley has come after something they'd been involved with.
"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 2 billion people and... it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways," said Parker.
Though primarily a social networking site, Facebook has acquired immense influence as an advertising platform, entertainment source, and communications channel. Worse, some consider it their de facto news source, which is problematic given the site's reputation for widespread fake news. It was particularly apparent during last year's controversial Presidential Election, a situation which Zuckerberg has apologized for.