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Facebook was built to be addictive to children, warns former social media manager

Facebook was designed to be addictive – and specifically target children, a former manager has admitted.

The ex-manager made the confession during a BBC Panorama investigation into Silicon Valley companies, like Facebook, and their desire to make products that are deliberately addictive for users.

Sandy Parakilas told the BBC the goal behind CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s company was to ‘addict’ people at ‘an incredibly young age’.

He likened the popular social network to a slot machine.

Another whistleblower, Leah Pearlman, who was part of a team that designed the ‘Like’ button, cautioned children and young adults who compulsively check the social network to stop using the service immediately.

Former executives also expressed alarm over Messenger for Kids, a messaging platform launched by Facebook specifically targeted for children aged six to 12.

The addictive properties of Facebook, particularly for children, were designed from the start, shocking revelations from company insiders suggest. Among the tools employed was one of the site’s earliest successes, the like button (creator Leah Pearlman pictured)

Like button co-creator Leah Pearlman told BBC Panorama, which will air tonight, that she started to measure her worth with feedback from the button she helped build.

‘I noticed that I would post something that I used to post and the “like” count would be way lower than it used to be,’ she confessed.

‘Suddenly, I thought I’m actually also kind of addicted to the feedback.’

The Like button co-creator tried to remove herself from Facebook, but claims she was hooked.

‘I’m feeling lonely, let me check my phone. The intention is actually to comfort ourselves.

‘For me, it was realising when I need validation and I go to check Facebook and there’s nothing there, how bad that feels,’ she added.

Pearlman now recommends younger Facebook users who find themselves using social media services compulsively should avoid them altogether.

She added: ‘The first things I would say is for those teenagers to step into a different way of being because with a few leaders, it can help others follow.’

Among those also speaking out was Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook platform manager who tried to quit the service after leaving the company in 2012.

Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook platform manager, staff said the company's goal was to 'addict' people at 'an incredibly young age'.

Aza Raski created the endless scroll, eliminating the need for clicking onto a new page and potentially ending a browsing session

Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook platform manager (left), said the company’s goal was to ‘addict’ people at ‘an incredibly young age’. Aza Raski created the endless scroll, eliminating the need for clicking onto a new page and potentially ending a browsing session

Like button co-creator Pearlman told BBC Panorama that she started to measure her worth with feedback from the button. Pictured is Professor Catharine Winstanley, with students, at the University of British Columbia. The scientist features on tonight's programme

Like button co-creator Pearlman told BBC Panorama that she started to measure her worth with feedback from the button. Pictured is Professor Catharine Winstanley, with students, at the University of British Columbia. The scientist features on tonight’s programme

WHEN WAS THE FACEBOOK LIKE BUTTON INTRODUCED? 

The idea behind the ‘like’ button began life in July 2007, when a team of Facebook developers discussed a range of symbols which could be used to mark approval of a post.

This included a star rating system, a plus sign, and the eventually chosen thumbs up, perhaps combined with the message ‘awesome’.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was initially hesitant to introduce the idea, when his engineers presented it to him in November 2007.

Zuckerberg was reportedly concerned it might overshadow the share and comment features already on the site.

The idea was revisited in December 2008, backed up by research that suggested a ‘like’ feature could increase the number of comments people made.

Finally, on February 9, 2009, the “like” feature was launched with a blogpost from project manager Leah Pearlman.

The feature – which gave users the option of giving messages a big ‘thumbs up’ – proved a massive hit and, in February, 2016, the like button was expanded to a range of ‘reactions’.

Sseven reactions were added in total, officially referred to as ‘Like’, ‘Love’, ‘Haha’, ‘Yay’, ‘Wow’, ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’.

The list appears when a person holds down the Like button on a mobile, or hovers their mouse over it on the desktop version of the site. 

As well as reacting to posts on newsfeeds, they can also be used to react to Facebook Messenger messages. 

He told the BBC: ‘Social media is very similar to a slot machine.

‘It literally felt like I was quitting cigarettes.

‘There was definitely an awareness of the fact that the product was habit-forming and addictive.

‘You have a business model designed to engage you and get you to basically suck as much time out of your life as possible and then selling that attention to advertisers.

‘It makes me really angry. They know what the negative effects are and they are not being honest.’

In a key admission, Sean Parker, co-founder of Facebook with current CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said the social media platform was designed to consume as much of people’s time as possible and hook our attention from the start.

He said: ‘You’re exploiting vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors […] understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.’

Leah Pearlman, who was part of a team behind Facebook's 'like' button, was particularly vocal on the dangers of the feature. This image shows the options given as part of the reactions feature which evolved out of the initial 'like' button 

Leah Pearlman, who was part of a team behind Facebook’s ‘like’ button, was particularly vocal on the dangers of the feature. This image shows the options given as part of the reactions feature which evolved out of the initial ‘like’ button 

Compulsively checking your Facebook is something most people can relate to but shocking revelations from company insiders suggest this is by design. Senior staff have admitted that the social network was created to be addictive, particularly to children

Compulsively checking your Facebook is something most people can relate to but shocking revelations from company insiders suggest this is by design. Senior staff have admitted that the social network was created to be addictive, particularly to children

According to the investigation by the BBC, Facebook is not the only Silicon Valley-based service looking to encourage compulsive browsing. 

Aza Raski, who previously worked for web browser firm Mozilla and the Jawbone fitness tracker brand, is the creator of the endless scroll.

This web-design technique loads content as the user scrolls down the webpage, eliminating the need for click to access new content and potentially deciding to end a browsing session.

Speaking in the documentary, he said: ­’Behind every screen on your phone, there are literally a thousand engineers to try to make it maximally addicting.

WHAT HAS FACEBOOK CO-FOUNDER SEAN PARKER SAID ABOUT THE SITE HE CREATED?

One of the biggest names in tech criticised Facebook and other social media sites in an interview with Axios in November 2017.

Sean Parker said that people like himself and Mark Zuckerberg had just one goal it mind when it came to these platforms: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible’

The answer, according to Parker, was by exploiting human weakness.

Parker said that he now sees himself as ‘something of a conscientious objector’ to social media, despite the fact that he owes most of his massive $2.4 billion (£1.8 bn) fortune to his involvement with Facebook.

Sean Parker in 2017 said that people like himself and Mark Zuckerberg had just one goal it mind when it came to these platforms: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible'

Sean Parker in 2017 said that people like himself and Mark Zuckerberg had just one goal it mind when it came to these platforms: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible’

Parker said that he and people like Zuckerberg realised they could keep their users engaged by ‘exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology’ and creating ‘a social-validation feedback loop.’

He added: ‘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.’

Parker, who now has two children, said: ‘It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.’ 

Tristan Harris (pictured), a former in-house ethicist at Google is spearheading a new group, called The Center for Humane Technology, campaigning to raise awareness of the negative effects of smartphones and social media

Tristan Harris (pictured), a former in-house ethicist at Google is spearheading a new group, called The Center for Humane Technology, campaigning to raise awareness of the negative effects of smartphones and social media

‘It’s as if they’re taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back.’  

Charter Harley Street clinical director Mandy Saligari has compared smartphone addiction to cocaine, warning parents: ‘if you give your child a smart phone in my view it’s tantamount to giving them a gram of cocaine.’ 

Research shows that a quarter of Britain’s children have had a negative experience on social media, with the average teenager checking their phone over 90 times a day, and a third of all adults checking their phones in the middle of the night.

This is not the first time high-profile social media employees have warned of its dangers.

A group of ex-Google and Facebook workers are currently campaigning to raise awareness of the negative effects of using products made by their former employers.

Among their concerns are addiction to technology and its impact on individuals, particularly children and younger users, as well as society as a whole.

WHAT HAVE OTHERS SAID ABOUT FACEBOOK’S NEGATIVE IMPACTS ON ITS USERS?

Ex-Google and Facebook workers are campaigning to raise awareness of the negative effects of using products made by their former employers.

Among their concerns are addiction to technology and its impact on individuals, particularly children and younger users, as well as society as a whole.

Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google is spearheading the new group, called the Center for Humane Technology.

The newly-launched initiative, which is working with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is planning to lobby the United States government over tech addiction. 

It is also undertaking an advertising campaign aimed at 55,000 public schools in the US, to raise awareness with parents, students and teachers over its concerns.

These include the mental health effects of overuse of social media, including depression, stress, anxiety, self-image and self-worth, according to the group’s website.

The campaign, called The Truth About Tech, also seeks to address more wide-ranging problems caused by technology, including its power to influence our relationships and even our political beliefs.

Speaking to the New York Times Mr Harris, said: ‘We were on the inside. We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.

‘The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?

‘We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.’ 

In December 2017, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya also spoke out against the social network he helped to create, saying it is ‘ripping society apart’.

Mr Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels ‘tremendous guilt’ for the influence Facebook has had and its ability to manipulate users.

He also suggested users take a break from using social media altogether.

Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google is spearheading the new group, called the Center for Humane Technology.

The newly-launched initiative, which is working with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is planning to lobby the United States government over tech addiction. 

It is also undertaking an advertising campaign aimed at 55,000 public schools in the US, to raise awareness with parents, students and teachers over its concerns.

These include the mental health effects of overuse of social media, including depression, stress, anxiety, self-image and self-worth, according to the group’s website.

The campaign, called The Truth About Tech, also seeks to address more wide-ranging problems caused by technology, including its power to influence our relationships and even our political beliefs.

ARE YOU ONE OF THE NEARLY 50% OF SMARTPHONE USERS ADDICTED TO THEIR HANDSET?

Worrying research published in December 2017 revealed we reach for our smartphones around 4,000 times a year for no apparent reason.

Each day we unlock our phone 28 times – and over a third of the time this is compulsive and unnecessary.

The apps we crave most are Facebook, followed by WhatsApp, Gmail and Instagram, the survey found.

Experts from Malta-based online casino Casumo.com looked at 2,000 UK smartphone users in order to find out whether checking their device was out of habit or necessity.

The average American clicks, taps or swipes on their smartphone screen more than 2,600 times a day, with some reaching an astonishing 5,400 times

The average American clicks, taps or swipes on their smartphone screen more than 2,600 times a day, with some reaching an astonishing 5,400 times

They found more than 40 percent of the 10,000 times users check smartphones each year is ‘compulsive’.

The top ten percent of users check their phones more than 60 times a day. 

More than one in three people think they are addicted to checking their phone with the average user spending nearly an hour each day on their phone.

The survey also found Google Maps is considered the most useful app while WhatsApp and Gmail come second and third.

Google Chrome is fourth and Facebook comes in fifth. 

Speaking to the New York Times Mr Harris, said: ‘We were on the inside. We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.

‘The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?

‘We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.’ 

The campaign, called The Truth About Tech, also seeks to address more wide-ranging problems caused by technology, including its power to influence our relationships and even our political beliefs (stock image)

The campaign, called The Truth About Tech, also seeks to address more wide-ranging problems caused by technology, including its power to influence our relationships and even our political beliefs (stock image)

In December, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya also spoke out against the social network he helped to create, saying it is ‘ripping society apart’.

Mr Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels ‘tremendous guilt’ for the influence Facebook has had and its ability to manipulate users.

He also suggested users take a break from using social media altogether.

Facebook itself has admitted that the social network may pose a threat to democracy, through the spread of fake news.

In a series of blog posts in January 2018, Facebook execs said the site was ‘far too slow’ in identifying negative influences that rose with the 2016 US election, citing Russian interference, ‘toxic discourse,’ and the ‘dangerous consequences’ of misinformation. 

The firm is set to roll out major changes to the News Feed, with plans to prioritise content from friends and family, and make posts from business, brands, and media less prominent – and, ensure the ‘news people see, while less overall, is high quality.’

Smartphones: The Dark Side will air on Wednesday July 4 at 7pm on BBC One.  

HOW CAN SOCIAL MEDIA HARM USERS’ HEALTH?

Twitter isn’t the first social media giant to look into how its platform affects users’ health. 

Facebook admitted in December that the site could be damaging to people’s health if used the wrong way. 

The company recommended that people use Facebook in an active, rather than passive, way, by communicating with friends, instead of just scrolling through their feed.

Facebook said it consulted with social psychologists, social scientists and sociologists to determine that the site can be good for users' well-being if used the right way 

Facebook said it consulted with social psychologists, social scientists and sociologists to determine that the site can be good for users’ well-being if used the right way 

By interacting with people when you use Facebook, it can improve your well-being, according to the company.

The report came after a former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya said Facebook ‘destroyed how society works’. 

Facebook went on to say that while there were some downsides to social media, that by and large it has the potential for benefits if it’s used correctly. 

In January, Facebook also acknowledged that social media can harm democracy.



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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