CEO of Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya, was giving a talk about capital management and the moral imperatives of using the money you make to help the world at Stanford, when the conversation suddenly turned to social media’s effect on society.
Palihapitiya is a former Facebook executive who helped bring the company into the prominence it is today, but according to him, there’s a part of him that feels awfully guilty for his part in Facebook’s success.
The interviewer asked Palihapitiya about “exploiting consumer behavior,” which he had mentioned earlier during his talk. According to the interviewer, she brought up the fact that the former Facebook exec said this was a “time for soul searching.”
“I feel tremendous guilt…,” said Palihapitiya stopping for a moment to collect his thoughts.
“I think we all knew in the back of our minds — even though we feigned this whole line that there probably aren’t any really bad unintended consequences — I think in the back deep deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen, but I think the way we defined it was not like this.”
Palihapitiya went into how he and his former colleagues created tools with which society, and how it works, is ripping itself apart, adding “that is truly where we are.” He then warned the crowd he was speaking to, future Stanford graduates, that this is something they need to keep in mind as they go into the real world.
“The short-term dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” said Palihapitiya. “No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”
“We curate our lives around the perceived sense of perfection,” he later said. “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.”
Palihapitiya pointed out that the short term fix of dopamine leaves you more vacant feeling than before you did it, and leaves you wondering what you have to do next to get the same rewarding feeling.
“It’s really bad,” he said. “It’s really, really bad.”
The former Facebook exec said that social media is “eroding the core foundations around how people behave by and between each other.” He included a story about an innocent man who was killed by a mob due to a fake story circulating on WhatsApp, and seemed horrified by the power of “bad actors” having so much power over so many people.
Palihapitiya sadly said he has no solutions to how to fix the problems currently being created by the social media beast, and added that his personal solution was to not use social media anymore. The man who helped forge Facebook into what we know today says he stays off it, and has maybe posted fewer than ten posts in the last seven years.
He added that he “didn’t want to be programmed” and that seeing the results of social media on the general public has saddened him.
“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” he said. “It was unintentional, but now you have to decide how much you’re willing to give up.”