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Former Facebook President Admits It's 'Exploiting a Vulnerability in Human Psychology'

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Sean Parker, the visionary techno-elf who cofounded Napster and served as Facebook’s first president, seems to have some regrets about building the social behemoth that’s taken over our world, telling an audience this week, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

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At an Axios event on Wednesday, Parker reportedly described as himself becoming “something of a conscientious objector” to social media off-camera before sharing some interesting nuggets about Facebook and immortality onstage:

When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would 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. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.” And I would say, ... “We’ll get you eventually.”

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Suckers, Justin Timberlake’s nerdier alter-ego seemingly thought to himself at the time. But more than a decade later, Parker’s perspective has changed. “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. “It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Parker also shed light on the Facebook’s early ethos and outlook. “The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: ‘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. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments.”

Now, as a 38-year-old philanthropist and founder of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Parker admits that social network “creators” like him and Mark Zuckerberg “understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

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And what’s the payoff for those Silicon Valley elite who made billions off “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” as Parker refers to it?

“Because I’m a billionaire, I’m going to have access to better health care,” he said. “So I’m going to be like 160 and I’m going to be part of this, like, class of immortal overlords. [Laughter]”

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[Axios]

Former senior reporter at Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

I’ve never been a go with the flow type person. And Facebook has always been terribly easily to exploit and extract metrics and data from. Which is why I contribute nothing to FB. I do not participate in their system, I do not respond to their ever growing lists of potential friends (the algorithm goes from accurate to inaccurate like clockwork trying to get me to correct it) its fun to watch actually. :) But by not contributing I give them nothing they can really use - even if my friends and former friends have me pegged on social media.

So yeah, FB is a scam and I don’t use it because it turns people into product.

And if you feel that’s wrong that I speak against it or don’t participate? You’re expressing a human trait that is just as much at work here as the ones Facebook has claimed to use to make its offering so appealing.

Because in the truest sense, that’s also a human foible that can be taken advantage of: people want to feel they are correct in their choices. If you get drawn in by FB - you are automatically supportive of FB and everything you percieve to be FB’s goals. But FB’s goals are not something you can percieve - because nothing you interact with is representative of FB’s ideals - it is representative of your friends ideals. FB just mines that data to know you and your friends data better and then sell that to the highest bidder.

And through that data someone with the intelligence and capacity can know precisely who and where you are, track you through everything you do on the internet, and follow you more intimately than your clothes do on a daily basis. And you’ll approve of that every step of the way... to the point of hating anyone who doesn’t fall into the same trap you have.

Its insidious after all, by design.