To an audience at the Stanford graduate school of business, former Facebook executive and venture capitalist – Chamath Palihapitiya – spoke some confronting truths about the soul searching he has undertaken since his involvement in Facebook – and how social media is gravely affecting how society functions today:
“I feel tremendous guilt.. I think we all knew in the back of our minds – even though we feigned this whole line of like, 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. It literally is a point now, where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are. And I would encourage all of you as the future leaders of the World, to really internalise how important this is. If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you. If you push back on it, you have a chance to control it and reign it in. It is a point in time where people need to hard break from some of these tools, and the things that you rely on. The short term dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And its not an American problem, this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So, we are in a really bad state of affairs right now. In my opinion it is eroding the core foundations of how people behave, by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. You know, my solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years, it’s created huge tension with my friends, huge tensions in my social circles. If you look at my Facebook feed I’ve posted maybe 5 times in 7 years – less than 10. It’s weird, I guess I kinda just innately didn’t wanna get programmed, and so I just tuned it out. But I didn’t confront it and now to see whats happening – it really bums me out. There were these examples where there was a hoax in WhatsApp in some village in India, people were afraid that their kids were gonna get kidnapped etc. And then there were these lynchings that happened as a result, where people were vigilante running around.. they think they’ve found the person.. I mean, seriously? That’s what we’re dealing with. When you take that to the extreme where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s a really, really bad state of affairs. And we compound the problem. We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection 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 that’s short term and that leaves you even more – and admit it – vacant and empty before you did it. Because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like ‘What’s the next thing I need to do now? Because I need it back’. Think about that compounded by 2 billion people and then think about how people react then to the perceptions of others. It’s just really bad, really really bad.”
“It sounds like you’re taking deep personal responsibility also in being a part of it?”
“I did a great job there, and I think that business overwhelmingly does positive good in the world. Where I have decided to spend my time is to take the capital that they rewarded me with and now focus on the structural changes that I can control. I can’t control that. I can control my decisions, which is I don’t use this shit. I can control my kids decisions, which is they’re not allowed to use this shit. And then I can go focus on diabetes and education and climate change and that’s what I can do. But everybody else has to soul search a little bit more about what you’re willing to do, because your behaviours – you don’t realise it – but you are being programmed. It was unintentional but now you gotta decide how much you’re willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence. And don’t think ‘Oh yeah not me, I’m fucking genius, I’m at Stanford.’ You’re probably the most likely to fucking fall for it. Cuz you were check boxing your whole goddamn life. No offence guys.”
(Segment starts at 21.22)
Consider yourself duly warned.