Former Facebook Executive Says Social Media Exploits Human 'Vulnerability'

Delia Watkins
November 12, 2017

Parker, the founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, spoke at an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where he discussed social media.

"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", said Parker. "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains", he added.

When helping Facebook get off the ground in 2004, Parker said, he and others involved in the nascent social network thought: "How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?"

They accomplished that by creating "a social-validation feedback loop" based on giving users "a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever", Parker explained.

"So the default for seeing content on Facebook is not that we see it in any kind of of timeline, we don't see it as the most recent post, it gives you more content that you scroll through that then allows it to target more advertising at you", he told the ABC's PM program.

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Parker, speaking at an Axios event, pulled back the curtain on Facebook's early days, saying it was created to consume people.

Although Facebook is a social networking site, it also has huge impact as an advertising platform and news distributor, reaching 2 billion people each month.

Facebook has been attacked by one of its founding members for "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology" and putting children's mental health at risk.

Parker's comments, though revelatory, come off as somewhat ironic, given that he has reaped billions off Facebook from being an early investor. Parker is now worth some $2.6 billion, making him the 93rd richest person in tech and the ninth richest entrepreneur in America, according to Forbes.

Parker left the stage joking that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would block his account after learning of his comments. Yet "we did it anyway". However, in light of the mass disinformation dump on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and everywhere online during the election, the real-world consequences have become more clear and frightening. "Perhaps it's just wistful thinking on my part, but it seems to me that it's Zuckerberg who should be anxious that more and more people might start carrying out this blocking all on their own", he commented on his blog.

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