"I feel tremendous guilt," said former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya last month, positing that social media pioneers knew "in the back recesses" of their minds "something bad could happen" with the platforms they created, despite projecting a public sense of optimism about their impact.
Society's experiment with social media is still young, but with more than a decade of Facebook and Twitter behind us, the industry is beset with sharp questions about its net value on daily life.
In a November interview at Stanford University, Palihapitiya claimed social networks "are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works."
"If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you," he added.
Palihapitiya argued the "the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works" and "eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other."
"No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth, and it is not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem," he contended. "We are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion."
Here's one especially interesting selection from Palihapitiya's remarks:
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 you're in this vicious cycle, like, what's the next thing I need to do now, because I need it back. Think about that compounded by two billion people, and then think about how people react then to the perceptions of others. It's just a really bad thing, it's really, really bad...
You don't realize it, but you are being programmed.
Perhaps most tellingly the former Facebook leader revealed he does not allow his own children to use social media.
Palihapitiya's assessment closely echoed comments made only days earlier by Sean Parker, the company's former president, right down to the "dopamine" line.
That means that we needed 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 ... It's a social validation feedback loop ... You're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology ... [The inventors] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway.
"God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains," Parker mused.
You can read Facebook's response to Palihapitiya here, but the organization argued it was "a very different company" during his time there, which ended six years ago.
Still, his critique was broad, focused on the platform's basic design of incentivizing consumptive use by offering people short-term rewards that feed their emotional needs. That has not changed.