Facebook’s founding president said the social media platform intentionally exploits “a vulnerability in human psychology,” which he hinted could have negative impacts on the brain and society at large.
Sean Parker, now founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, opened up about his time at Facebook during an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen on Wednesday.
“The unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people ― it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” Parker said.
“It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways,” he continued. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Several studies have shown that social media can have harmful effects on mental health, especially in teenagers. A 2017 study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, a U.K.-based health charity, found that people who use platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were more likely to have anxiety, depression and sleep issues.
“Social media addiction is thought to affect around 5 percent of young people, with social media being described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol,” the study stated. “The platforms that are supposed to help young people connect with each other may actually be fueling a mental health crisis.”
Parker ― who resigned his position at Facebook in 2005 after police arrested him (though never charged him) with felony possession of cocaine ― acknowledged the troublesome trend.
“Anxiety is a huge problem now,” Parker said. “[Facebook is] 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.”
Parker added that the social networks’ creators, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, “consciously” understood the implications of trying to keep users hooked on their products.
“The thought process that went into building these applications ... was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” Parker said.
“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,” he continued. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment.