Are Facebook and other social media companies intentionally exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities to keep them addicted?
You bet, says Sean Parker, who made a fortune as an early Facebook investor and its first president. In an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen this week, Parker said that he has become something of a “conscientious objector” to social media. And he reflected with some regret on his own role in helping to mold the sort of company that Facebook would become.
“The thought process was all about, ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’,” he said. “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop. … You’re exploiting a vulnerabilty in human psychology.”
Parker went on: “I think the inventors, creators—it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom at Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this, consciously. And we did it anyway.”
There’s a weird element of humblebrag in Parker’s comments: He seems to be claiming more credit for Facebook creation than he probably deserves, given that his stint at the company lasted only a year. And we should probably take with a grain of salt any sweeping assessment of Facebook based on the personal experience of a guy who hasn’t worked there in 12 years. (The news feed hadn’t even been invented yet when he left following his arrest on suspicion of cocaine possession, for which he was never charged.)
Even so, Parker’s recollections are instructive because…