Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, spoke recently to an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business and this was his main message. Palihapitiya worries that social media is ripping apart society.
Palihapitiya joined the Facebook team in 2007 as the company’s V.P. for User Growth. Now, roughly 10 years later, he says he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped create. He believes that in some ways, social media is “eroding the core foundations of how people behave, by and between each other” and he encourages us all to do a little bit of soul searching.
“Your behaviors, you don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” says Palihapitiya. “It was unintentional,” he maintains, but it has happened nonetheless. And, according to him, we are in a bad state of affairs.
In summation, Palihapitiya worries that users of social media are not being exposed to enough of a variety of viewpoints. When asked how to combat this, his solution was simple: get the money. Granted, his captive audience at the time was a slew of business students, hoping to take on the world. But he encouraged his listeners to ‘get the money’ so they could essentially get a seat at the proverbial table. “You have a very unique worldview that matters,” says Palihapitiya. “In the absence of capital, you’re irrelevant. With capital, you’re powerful…When you control some of these pursestrings, you can push that view into the world…I will not judge you, and you should not judge me, for what that worldview is. But the point is: the more diversity of those views, the more rational actors we have, and the more of a balanced, fair system [we have].”
I think Palihapitiya’s words were both powerful, and empowering. His message is one that inspires me to do more good in the world. That’s not to say that social media is a bad thing, or that it causes any harm. Like Palihapitiya, I too think that Facebook, and other social media platforms “overwhelmingly do positive good in the world”. That said, I also think they need to be monitored, and kept ‘in check’ by its users.
As an insider of the industry, Palihapitiya has strong opinions on the state of affairs, and they should be considered. Personally, I am not so convinced of the severity of the situation. However, it is valuable insight that we, as users, should be aware of.
We should never forget the power that we have, as a collective audience. We may not have the necessary ‘capital’ that he maintains is required to offer another viewpoint, but we do control the usage of such platforms, or lack thereof. Recent examples of this can be found with the NFL and viewer ratings during the last season. The introduction and intermingling of politics and football caused viewer ratings to drop significantly for the NFL. Unhappy with what they saw broadcasted each Sunday, more and more viewers decided enough was enough. Collectively, viewers found their voice when speaking to one of the largest, wealthiest and most powerful organizations in the country. Similarly, I’m confident we could do the same to ensure social media continues to be a force of good in the world.