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Is Facebook destroying civilization?

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
12/12/2017 (1 month ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Remorseful former executive joins list of critics.

Is Facebook destroying civilization? According to one former Facebook executive, the answer is yes. Chamath Palihapitiya, the former executive responsible for the social network's user growth department, the network is "ripping apart the social fabric of how society works." But is he correct?

Facebook is certainly destroying marriages, sleep patterns, and more.

Facebook is certainly destroying marriages, sleep patterns, and more.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
12/12/2017 (1 month ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Facebook, social media, harmful, effects, dangerous, destroying, civilization


LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya says he feels "tremendous guilt" over how the social media giant is affecting society. 

In an interview with the Stanford School of Business, Palihapitiya sounded a bit like Robert Oppenheimer, lamenting the invention of the atom bomb. He explained that Facebook was designed to be addictive, using a "social-validation feedback loop" that exploited a weakness in the human brain. He added it created a "fake, brittle popularity," that drives a "vicious circle" of sharing things they believe will gain other's approval. 

Palihapitiya explained, "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... We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are."

So, is he correct?

We are naturally social. We thrive on social approval. Each time we post something and our friends approve, we get a reward in the pleasure center of our brain. However, the reward is always short-lived, so we usually have to go back within minutes to try and get another dose of social approval. 

If left unchecked, this behavior can become compulsive. This is why being without wifi or taking a person's phone away can be so upsetting. It's just as painful as taking away a smoker's cigarettes or an alcoholic's drink. 

Such addiction is problematic. Facebook is regularly cited in divorce filings, up to a quarter of the time. Unhappy spouses report that the social network is promoting infidelity, with former lovers and new ones available at a touch. The network itself is also so addicting that some spouses are checking their phones in bed and neglecting their partners. 

Facebook has also been implicated in all kinds of social ills, such as the viral spread of fake news, and in gross miscarriages of justice. During his interview, Palihapitiya cited a case where another social app, What's App, contributed to the viral spread of a nasty rumor which resulted in the lynching of seven people in India. 
Social media is a tool. And like any tool, it increases efficiency. As humans, we are prone to gossip, prone to addiction, and prone to terrible things, from hysteria to lynchings, to infidelity. Ultimately, Facebook allows us to be ourselves, but faster. People still gossiped, lied, and cheated, before Facebook, but now they can engage in such behavior much more efficiently. 

Like a firearm, Facebook is a tool which can be used for good, if used responsibly and judiciously, but when used carelessly, it can channel evil with tremendous efficiency. 

Palihapitiya himself said he does not use social media or allow his kids to use it either. 

Social media, like any tool, can be wonderful and useful, but it must be used in moderation. But moderation is difficult because of the inherently addictive nature of the media. Unfortunately, social media exists, is popular, and isn't going away. Thankfully, we have the ability to control our impulses and our desires, and we can moderate our behavior. 

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