Social media a predator: pioneer
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.”