Fred Hartman

As social media use has become woven into the fabric of our culture, a story this week got my attention when a former Facebook executive described the harm of the monster he helped create.

Chamath Palihapitiya said social media is “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” in an address at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Palihapitiya, a former Facebook vice president for user growth and native of Sri Lanka, said, “The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.

There’s no civil discourse, no cooperation; (only) misinformation, mistruth.”

Dopamine is one of the chemical compounds that functions as a neurotransmitter that makes our brains work and makes us feel happy.

Palihapitiya was referring to “likes” and thumbs up or thumbs down or retweets on such sites as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. He described this as a global problem, not an American problem.

He doesn’t make social media sound like anything you’d want to expose your kids to, either, and said his children aren’t allowed to use social media.

That speaks volumes.

Palihapitiya also told the website Axios, “God only knows what it’s (social media) doing to our children’s brains.”

But I don’t see how too much social media use could be healthy for adults, either.

Too many people become addicted to cyberspace and that dopamine feedback loop in lieu of having normal relationships and a social life.

In full disclosure, the Herald has a Facebook page with 7,128 registered followers.

Our goal is simple — to redirect Facebook followers to fbherald.com, the newspaper’s website.

But Palihapitiya also showed some complexity in his argument when he said he believes Facebook “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”

He didn’t elaborate, but one would assume he meant bringing communities of people together and providing direct communication.

On the flip side, it seems like there could be an element of the pot calling the kettle black with Palihapitiya because he made good money at Facebook.

He’s now a venture capitalist and heads a healthcare and education fund with $2.6 billion in assets under management.

He’s also a bitcoin investor and owns a piece of the Golden State Warriors.

But any of us who have a smart phone or a social media account should know what he’s talking about, especially when you receive a text message or a “like” from something we’ve posted.

So many people use social media on their smart phones that they’re rarely disconnected from it when they’re not sleeping.

One of the issues not addressed in Palihapitiya’s comments at Stanford was the fake news and propaganda items posted on Facebook so often.

Although many postings are from legitimate news sources, many posts are completely unfiltered and come from questionable sources.

It can be a forum for scoundrels or even Russian bots that spread disinformation in last year’s presidential election.

Facebook is also set to introduce a new app called Messenger Kids for children between 4 and 12 years old.

Right now, you must be 13 to register for Facebook, but Messenger Kids would allow younger children to send texts, photos and videos.

It sounds like a marketing push for future customers and Facebook users.

Scary.

One way Messenger Kids is being promoted is to allow kids to stay in touch with grandparents.

If they want to do that, what’s wrong with picking up the phone — or doing a FaceTime call on an iPhone?

We won’t be using Messenger Kids at my house.

It seems like a slippery slope for my 5 year olds that wouldn’t lead to anywhere good.

We’ll stick to Old School methods: reading books, drawing things, having conversations with other live human beings — and even watching some shows on TV such as Scooby-Doo.

But most importantly, kids should be spending time outside burning off all that energy, not becoming best friends with a smart phone or a computer.

Please let us know what you think about the impact that social media and smart phones are having on children as well as adults.

Reach Fred Hartman at fbh@hartmannews.com.

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