The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Facebook’s first president, on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’

Sean Parker was the founding president of Facebook, but now he worries about the impact of social media on children. (Video: Patrick Martin/TWP)

The Facebook founders purposefully created something addictive, the social network's first president told Axios in an interview.

“God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains,” Sean Parker said in the interview published Thursday.

With each like and comment, Facebook is “exploiting” human psychology on purpose to keep users hooked on a “social-validation feedback loop,” Parker said, adding that it is “exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with.”

Parker, the billionaire Napster co-founder who later served as Facebook's founding president, made the comments at an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Speaking to Axios' Mike Allen, Parker called himself “something of a conscientious objector.”

“I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and . . . it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. . . . It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways,” Parker said.

When helping Facebook get off the ground in 2004, Parker said, he and others involved in the nascent social network thought: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”

“And that means that we need 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. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you . . . more likes and comments.”

13, right now: This is what it's like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing

Although Facebook is a social networking site, it also has immense impact as an advertising platform and news distributor, reaching 2 billion people each month.

The company has made headlines recently with revelations that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda. The more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads sought to influence different voters based on their political and demographic characteristics, The Washington Post reported.

In a blog post, Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos wrote that “we will continue to invest in our people and technology to help provide a safe place for civic discourse and meaningful connections on Facebook.”

As criticism increased after revelations of Russia's use of the platform to spread “fake news” and influence voters, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized. In the apology post, Zuckerberg did not mention Russia specifically.

“For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better,” he wrote in a brief post published at the end of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jewish people. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask for forgiveness and I will work to do better.”

According to Axios, Parker joked that Zuckerberg would block him on Facebook after reading what he said in the interview.

More reading:

When every moment of childhood can be recorded and shared, what happens to childhood?

The seventh-grader’s sext was meant to impress him. Then he shared it. It nearly destroyed her.

TripAdvisor, under fire for removing claims of rape, will now flag hotels with reported incidents

As a conspiracy theory video spread after Texas shooting, YouTube works to tweak its algorithm