By Philip  |  11-09-2017   News
Photo credit: thenology.com

With all the talk about how social media networks like Facebook had a hand in influencing the election's outcome and adding fuel to the fire of our divisive political climate, an even more grave danger may be presenting itself through the same social media networks. Formerly the founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker, expects to be "blocked" by CEO Mark Zuckerberg after going public with his <a href="https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html">fears regarding the way Facebook</a> and other social media networks are fundamentally changing the world and the way people interact.

It all starts with a simple mind hack. The brain operates in many ways like any other processing unit. As a result, there are vulnerabilities that, if exploited, allow its basic operation to be rerouted. A great model for this is addiction. Normally, our brains provide a balance of electrical and chemical input in the form of neuronal transmission, hormones and neurotransmitters. This homeostasis is rooted in nature and serves simple, but vitally important evolutionary functions.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sean Parker on size and power of social networks like Facebook where you instigate a feedback loop of dopamine and positive reinforcement: &quot;You&#39;re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.&quot; <a href="https://t.co/7VlEisZQdC">pic.twitter.com/7VlEisZQdC</a></p>&mdash; Axios (@axios) <a href="https://twitter.com/axios/status/928388054095663105?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 8, 2017</a></blockquote>

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In the case of addiction, our drive to attain, prosper and succeed are overwritten by a desire for whatever substance or activity are hijacking our dopamine reward-feedback loop.

In <a href="https://www.livescience.com/49585-facebook-addiction-viewed-brain.html"><i>Livescience</i> a few years back,</a> a study was discussed that viewed the brain under fMRI. Addiction has an electromagnetic signature and the brain activity of certain Facebook users displays the tell-tale signs of psychological dependency. In the study, brains of cocaine addicts were compared with Facebook addicts. The resemblance was a little too close for comfort.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Wew lads, spicy content <a href="https://t.co/uf10SVLbTD">https://t.co/uf10SVLbTD</a></p>&mdash; Gab (@getongab) <a href="https://twitter.com/getongab/status/928676729077551111?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 9, 2017</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote>Social networking sites like Facebook "hook" people using four elements: a trigger, such as loneliness, boredom or stress; an action, such as logging in to Facebook; an unpredictable or variable reward, such as scrolling through a mix of juicy and boring tidbits in the newsfeed; and investment, which includes posting pictures or liking someone's status update, said Nir Eyal, a startup founder and author of "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products," (Nir Eyal, 2013).</blockquote>

A more recent and more comprehensive study mentioned in the <i>Harvard Business Review</i> confirmed several previous studies while suggesting that the quantity of use is a deciding factor on the detriment to physical and psychological health and well-being. The more you use Facebook, the worse you feel. Just like any dangerous and addictive drug. Spending hours a day on social media may be just the trick for ruining your self-esteem, encouraging sedentary living, debilitating your interpersonal skills.

Addiction has some ugly side effects. Facebook addiction, while possessing many of the same detriments, brings a new Pandora's box to the table. Loneliness, jealousy, hijacking the reward feedback cycle, exacerbation of fear, pain and stress, decreased intimacy, avoiding real-world problems are typical signs of addiction and dependence. In addition, issues like jealousy, resentment of peers and decreased creativity and imagination have been observed as specific to social media addiction.

Parker explains his shock and horror in a talk at Axios:

"That means that we needed 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 … It's a social validation feedback loop … You're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology … [The inventors] understood this, consciously, and we did it anyway."

"When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, 'I'm not on social media.' And I would say, 'OK. You know, you will be.' And then they would say, 'No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.' And I would say, … 'We'll get you eventually.'"

"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. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."

"The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: '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."

"It's a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

"The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."

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