A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 17, 2017

Why Facebook Admits Social Media Can Make People Feel Bad As Two Former Execs Say It Has Negative Societal Impact

Trying to admit to flaws that don't damage its long-term business strategy. JL

Kurt Wagner reports in Re/code and Connie Loizos reports in Tech Crunch:

A perfect encapsulation of Facebook in 2017 — a company that is trying to walk the fine line between doing good and building a massive advertising business. Former Facebook  president Sean Parker said that the platform is having deleterious effects on society. Said (former exec) Palihapitiya , “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we have created are destroying society. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth.”
Re/code: Facebook did something surprising: It admitted, in a corporate blog post, that using social media can leave people feeling crummy.
Facebook, of course, has built a multi-billion dollar business on the back of the world’s largest social network, which made the admission rather startling.
But there was a caveat to the claim: Facebook, which cited outside research throughout the report, says that using social media passively — described as “reading but not interacting with people” — makes users feel worse.
Engaging with content on social media — Facebook describes this as “sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions” — actually makes people feel better, Facebook claims.
So: Aimlessly scrolling through the news feed is bad. But scrolling through the news feed and clicking Like and leaving comments is good.
The conclusion to Facebook’s blog post isn’t surprising. Researchers have been saying for years that social media can leave people feeling bad. And Facebook’s solution — that the cure to fix social media is more social media — won’t shock anybody.
What is surprising, though, is why Facebook is suddenly weighing in publicly on the mental health concerns associated with using Facebook.
This whole exercise from Facebook came from the company’s relatively new “Hard Questions” blog series, which it started earlier this year to share thoughts on big-picture topics, like online terrorism and hate speech.
(The) post is a perfect encapsulation of Facebook in 2017 — a company that is constantly trying to walk the fine line between doing good and building a massive advertising business.
Tech Crunch: The Verge published comments made by investor and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, quoting his interview last month at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he echoed recent comments made by former Facebook  president Sean Parker that the platform is having deleterious effects on society.
Said Palihapitiya at Stanford, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth.”
It appears that Palihapitiya made the comments just a day or two after Parker broadcast his own warnings in an interview with Axios, telling interviewer Mike Allen that the thought process behind building the social media giant was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” Added Parker at the time: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Either way, the one-two punch was evidently more than Facebook could stomach, perhaps because Palihapitiya’s comments were so widely circulated yesterday — appearing first in The Verge but subsequently in CNBC, Quartz, Business Insider and Fortune. This morning, Facebook issued a statement in which it referred by first name to Palihapitiya, writing:
Chamath has not been at Facebook for over six years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realised how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We’ve done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we’re using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology and processes, and – as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call – we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.
It’s a surprising move for the juggernaut, which would normally leave well enough alone. It’s also hard to know which of Palihapitiya’s comments may have struck a nerve, though he accused early employees of knowing on some level that the platform could prove unhealthy but adding that they barreled forward anyway.
“I feel tremendous guilt,” Palihapitiya said in his November sit-down. “In the back, deep, deep recesses of our mind, we kind of knew something bad could happen.”
Palihapitiya is renowned for making brash comments about a wide range of things, from the ubiquity of Kind bars to the lack of diversity in the venture industry to his steadfast belief that Amazon is not a monopoly.
He has also capitalized on his time at Facebook, where he as once VP of user growth, to cultivate his own investment firm, Social Capital, often promoting the fact that it has its own internal platform team. Some of its members came from the Facebook Growth team, including Ray Ko, who reported to Palihapitiya at Facebook, and Jonathan Hsu, who helped start its data science practice. Today, Social Capital uses their collective expertise to help its portfolio companies figure out their own growth strategies.


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