Have you ever created something that you thought would help people, only to discover that it would harm them afterward? Chamath Palihapitiya, a former VP of user growth at Facebook, would definitely be able to relate.

In an unexpected turn of events, the former Facebook executive spoke with the Stanford Graduate School of Business about his feelings of guilt and regret of helping found a company that has been fundamentally detrimental to the way people interact today. Palihapitiya first began at the social media company in 2007, three years after its founding by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. At the time, Palihapitiya recounted that few really considered the negative effects of a platform like Facebook.

But as Facebook's popularity grew, it the negative consequences of constant, excessive social networking became clearer. And the problem became much bigger than Facebook as merely an online platform -- it changed the way people interact on a day-to-day basis and restructured an entire existing social structure, something few people could have foreseen after the advent of texting.

"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," he said. "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem."

Paliphapitiya left the company in 2011 and founded Social Capital, a venture capital firm that funds education and health-care businesses overlooked by Silicon Valley. He also serves as a board member of the Golden State Warriors.

What he speaks to, however, is a real problem inherent in the rise of social media as a primary form of communication. Now that people's online interactions are motivated by short-term gratification and instant validation, how people look for substantial emotional and social fulfillment offline -- in the real world -- also occurs in a similar vein.

The solution to the problem? Well, for now, there isn't a clear one. But Paliphapitiya suggests that taking a break from these platforms -- especially when we're too dependent on them for happiness or satisfaction in our everyday lives.  

"Everybody else has to soul-search a little bit more about what you're willing to do," he said. "Because your behaviors, you don't realize 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."

Published on: Dec 15, 2017