Facebook says, ignore that guy, we're all grown up now

Chamath Palihapitiya says social media sites "are destroying how society works." His former employer disagrees.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read
Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1

Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO of VC firm Social Capital, criticized his former employer, Facebook. He's pictured here at last year's Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.  


Several former Facebook executives have criticized the giant they helped create. Now Facebook is responding to one of them, saying the company has changed since the executive worked there. 

Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook vice president and current CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital, told a Stanford Graduate School of Business class last month that social media sites "are destroying how society works." The remarks went viral Monday following a report from The Verge

On Tuesday, Facebook, in a rare move, responded to Palihapitiya's comments:

Chamath has not been at Facebook for over [six] years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then, and as we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We've done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we're using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology and processes, and -- as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call -- we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.

Facebook has been under intense scrutiny for its power and influence, particularly in light of the spread of misinformation on the site and the Facebook algorithm's ability to impact how people view the world. The tech giant, along with rivals Twitter and Google, testified before Congress last month about the impact of social networks on last year's US presidential election, and how Russian agents leveraged social media to divide Americans. Lawmakers have repeatedly brought up the possibility of regulating Facebook and other social networks.

Facebook instead has tried to regulate itself. The same day the company testified before Congress, Zuckerberg said his company was going to put its 2 billion users ahead of profit. At the time, he vowed to hire an additional 10,000 people for its security team to prevent abuse on its platform, something that would cut into Facebook's earnings. 

Palihapitiya worked as vice president of user growth for mobile and international at Facebook from 2007 to 2011. He said during his talk at Stanford that "the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth. And it's not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion."

This isn't the first time a former Facebook executive has criticized the company. Last month, Sean Parker, Facebook's former president, said the site was designed to exploit the way people fundamentally think and behave. Facebook didn't respond to Parker's comments at that time. 

Palihapitiya, through a spokesperson, declined to comment further to CNET. 

But he tried to temper his viral comments during an interview with CNBC earlier Tuesday. He said his remarks weren't about Facebook specifically but about social media in general. Palihapitiya added that he believes Facebook has "done more than any other company to try to fix it."

Still, Palihapitiya said he doesn't let his children use devices and reiterated his belief that social media is hurting how society works.

"Today we live in a world now where it is easy to confuse truth and popularity, and you can use money to amplify whatever you believe and get people to believe that what is popular is now truthful and what is not popular may not be truthful," he said. "The question [we] have to ask ourselves is, How do we live in a world where this is now possible?"

CNET's Richard Nieva contributed to this report.

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