Former Facebook President Sean Parker Blasts Social Media For Exploiting Human Psychology

Facebook Eye

Maybe you already knew this, or at least had a hunch, but Facebook and other social networks are intentionally designed to trigger an emotional response to keep users coming back, according to Sean Parker, who amassed a fortune helping launch the world's largest social playground with Mark Zuckerberg. Now a philanthropist, Parker is at a point of reflection in his life, and he is not necessarily proud of what he helped create at Facebook.

In an interview with Axios, Parker waxed candid on social networks and the psychological element that is at play. The way he describes it, the design behind Facebook is almost like brain hacking, in that the goal is to get into users' heads and give them a rush that will keep them coming back.

"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. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments," Parker said.

Parker described the process as a "social-validation feedback loop" and said it is "exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

Sean Parker
Image Source: Flickr (JD Lasica)

In the early going, Parker said people would come up to him and boast about not being on social media because they value their real-life interactions and the intimacy of communication with others in person. Parker took that as a challenge, commenting back, "We'll get you eventually."

"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 ... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains," Park said.

According to Parker, he and others such as Zuckerberg and Kevin Systrom on Instagram were always conscious of the psychological hook that social networks needed to embed in users to see massive growth, "and we did it anyway." It is an interesting confession of sorts, one that Zuckerberg will probably disagree with publicly, should he choose to respond.

While this kind of thing is not exactly a secret, it is nonetheless interesting to hear a co-founder acknowledge the physiological aspect of social networks. There was a bit of an uproar a few years ago when it was discovered that Facebook had experimented with nearly 700,000 users by altering their news feeds to see what emotional effects certain content has.

"When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred," Facebook stated in a research paper.

Food for the thought the next time you fire up Facebook or any other social network.

Thumbnail Image Source: Flickr (JD Lasica)