So­cial me­dia a preda­tor: pi­o­neer

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - JAC­QUI GODDARD MI­AMI

It was founded as a tool for bring­ing the world to­gether, for build­ing com­mu­nity and bridg­ing di­vides.

More than two decades later, how­ever, one of Face­book’s pi­o­neers has ad­mit­ted he and Mark Zucker­berg, its co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive, cre­ated a mon­ster by know­ingly “ex­ploit­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­ity in hu­man psy­chol­ogy”.

“God only knows what it’s do­ing to our chil­dren’s brains,” Sean Parker said.

Now 37, he be­came pres­i­dent of Face­book when it was five months old, and played a piv­otal role in trans­form­ing it from a col­lege project into a multi-bil­lion­dol­lar busi­ness with two bil­lion monthly users.

Say­ing he had be­come “some­thing of a con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tor” to so­cial me­dia, Mr Parker said that, although it was de­signed to draw peo­ple in and keep them hooked, he mis­judged the in­flu­ence it would have.

“The thought process 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,” he said, not­ing that “likes” and com­ments on their pages en­cour­aged users to post more and more.

“It’s a so­cial val­i­da­tion feed­back loop. It’s ex­actly the kind of thing that a hacker like my­self would come up with be­cause you’re ex­ploit­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­ity in hu­man psy­chol­ogy,” he told the news web­site Ax­ios.

He and Mr Zucker­berg, and oth­ers such as Kevin Sys­trom, cre­ator of In­sta­gram, “un­der­stood this con­sciously — and we did it any­way”, he said.

Mr Parker took his first steps to be­com­ing a bil­lion­aire in 1999, when he co-founded Nap­ster, a free in­ter­net ser­vice for shar­ing mu­sic files. It was named in Guin­ness World Records as the fastest-grow­ing busi­ness of all time, but was shut down af­ter 20 months amid le­gal chal­lenges from the record­ing in­dus­try.

His ten­ure with Face­book lasted only a year be­fore a co­caine scan­dal forced him out as pres­i­dent in 2005, though he re­mained in­te­gral to its op­er­a­tions. Mr Parker was played by Justin Tim­ber­lake in The So­cial Net­work in 2010.

“When Face­book was get­ting go­ing, I had these peo­ple who would come up to me and 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’, ” he re­called.

“I would say ... ‘we’ll get you even­tu­ally’.

“I don’t know if I re­ally un­der­stood ... what I was say­ing, be­cause of the un­in­tended con­se­quences of a net­work when it grows to a bil­lion or two bil­lion peo­ple. It lit­er­ally changes your re­la­tion­ship with so­ci­ety.”

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