It has made him a billionaire, but now one of the founders of Facebook has spoken candidly about what he helped to create, as well as his fears for the future.
Sean Parker, who helped devise the social media titan Facebook has unloaded his worries and criticisms of the global phenomenon in an interview in Philadelphia.
Working alongside Mark Zuckerberg, he revealed that they knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset.
“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.’ 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,” Mr. Parker said.
Having first risen to prominence as the creator of the pioneering file-sharing service Napster, he met Zuckerberg whose idea was Facebook, and helped steer the firm to Silicon Valley having successfully attracted big name investors.
On Facebook ‘You Will Be’
Mr. Parker described how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him they weren’t on social media, because they valued their real-life interactions.
“And I would say, okay. You know, you will be,” he explained.
“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 two billion people and, it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” said Mr. Parker, the founding Facebook president.
“It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he confessed.
As for his own habits, Mr. Parker said he no longer used social media as it was “too much of a time sink.” However, he quickly added, he still has an account on Facebook, joking:
“If Mark hears this he’s probably going to suspend my account.”
His comments come at a time when social media companies are facing intense scrutiny from lawmakers over their power and influence.
While admitting he still used social media platforms, Mr. Parker stressed that he just didn’t let them use him.
From Harvard Directory to Tech Giant
He joined the Facebook team in 2004, five months after the site had launched as a student directory at Harvard.
Recognizing the site’s potential, Mr. Parker became a pivotal part in helping its transformation from a college project into a real company.
In 2005, police found cocaine in a vacation home Mr. Parker was renting and he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a Schedule II substance. He wasn’t charged but his arrest quickly filtered through to the investors, forcing him to resign.
His stint at Facebook had its financial rewards, however, with his net worth now reputed to be more than US$2.6 billion.
He set up the Parker Foundation in June 2015 to use some of his wealth to support “large scale systemic change” in life sciences, global health and civic engagement.
More recently, he became the founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which encourages advances in cancer therapies.