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Facebook is 'ripping apart society', former executive says

James Titcomb
Facebook has been criticised by several former employees - REUTERS

One of Facebook’s earliest executives has said the social network is “destroying how society works" and that he feels “tremendous guilt” about his work.

Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007, accused it of “programming” its users and said he no longer uses the website or allows his children to access it.

“It literally is at a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford University. “We are in a really bad state of affairs right now in my opinion, it is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

Palihapitiya, who was in charge of growing Facebook's global empire before leaving in 2011 to become a tech investor, is the latest in a string of early Facebook employees and investors to speak out about the evils of social media and warn the public about its effects on society.

Its former president Sean Parker has said Facebook is “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”, while Roger McNamee, an early investor, has accused it of using the techniques of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

“I feel tremendous guilt,” Palihapitiya said. “I think we all knew in the back of our minds, even though we feigned this whole line of ‘there probably aren’t any really bad unintended consequences’, I think in the deep deep recesses of our minds we kind of knew something bad could happen.

“People need to hard break from some of these tools and the things that you rely on, the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we created are destroying how society works, [there is] no civil discourse, no-co operation, [but] misinformation and mistruth.

“We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short term signals, hearts and likes and thumbs up. We conflate that with value and we conflate that with truth, and instead what it really is is fake brittle popularity that’s short term and leaves you even more vacant and empty.”

The criticism comes as Facebook is under pressure over Russian agents allegedly using the social network to influence elections in the UK, US and Europe. MPs on the digital, culture media and sport committee have demanded the company disclose any evidence of interference in last year’s Brexit vote.

A Facebook spokesman said: "“Chamath has not been at Facebook for over 6 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.."