Ex-Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya told CNBC on Tuesday that social media is creating a society that confuses “popularity” with “truth.”
“The tools that we have created today are starting to erode the social fabric of how society works,” he said in a “Squawk Box” interview, in response to questions about similar comments he made that went viral. At a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business event, Palihapitiya said social media is tearing society apart.
On CNBC, he explained what he meant. “Today we live in a world now where it is easy to confuse truth and popularity. And you can use money to amplify whatever you believe and get people to believe what is popular is now truthful. And what is not popular may not be truthful.”
“The reality is, I can take money and I can use that through all the social media systems that exist to hundreds of millions of people,” said Palihapitiya, founder and CEO venture capital powerhouse Social Capital, which has $2.6 billion in assets under management.
“We can do that about vaccines, we can do that about gay rights, we can do that about bathroom laws, we can do that about Roy Moore,” he said.
Supporters and detractors of Moore — the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, accused of sexual misconduct with teens — have used social media to argue their points ahead of Tuesday’s special election. The influence of social media on politics is also at the center of the investigations into Russia’s use of Facebook and Twitter to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Palihapitiya said social media exploits “our own natural tendencies in human beings to get and want feedback.” He said the question people must ask is: “How do we live in a world where that is now possible?”
“That feedback, chemically speaking, is the release of dopamine in your brain,” Palihapitiya said. The “feedback loops” get people to react, he added. “I think if you get too desensitized and you need it over and over and over again, then you become actually detached from the world in which you live.”
Despite being a tech leader, Palihapitiya said he keeps his children away from social media by giving them “no screen time whatsoever.” He said they don’t get to use any devices.
Palihapitiya, also co-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, said his comments and actions were not direct attacks at Facebook. “I owe those guys everything,” he said. “They made me.”
“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 realized 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.”
Over his four-year tenure at Facebook, which started in 2007, Palihapitiya served in various management roles, including vice president of user growth.
Meanwhile, Andrew McCollum, a member of Facebook’s founding team, responded to Palihapitiya’s remarks on the state of social media.
In an interview on CNBC shortly after Facebook’s statement, McCollum said the social network’s founders want to provide “value to people’s lives.”
“Like Chamath, I also have not been at Facebook full time for a long time,” McCollum, now CEO of media company Philo, told “Squawk Alley.” “I can say from my time there in those very early days, you know, I saw a group of people that to a person was really deeply and completely focused on how they could build a product and a service that really provided value in people’s lives.”
“I think that we’re lucky that the group of people that runs Facebook, many of which are still there today, have that focus,” he added.