Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter like “behavioural cocaine”, say Silicon Valley insiders

Facebook Snapchat Instagram TwitterFacebook, Snapchat, and Twitter make sure their platforms are designed to get users addicted to what they have to offer, Silicon Valley insiders have told the BBC.

During an episode of the BBC’s Panorama programme, Aza Raskin, a former Mozilla and Jawbone employee, compared the use of social media to “cocaine” with social media platforms constantly satisfying the addictive behaviour of users.

“Its as if theyre taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and thats the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back,” said Raskin, who invented the infinite scroll, a feature that enables users to swipe down through an endless stream of content and one of features that many believe contributes to social media addiction.

Raskin, who said he feels guilt over his contribution to this addictive behaviour, blames the business models of companies for forcing the “literally a thousand engineers” behind platforms to work on making products as addictive as possible.

“In order to get the next round of funding, in order to get your stock price up, the amount of time that people spend on your app has to go up,” he said.

The former Mozilla employee’s point is backed by Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook engineer who has been very outspoken against the service.

Parakilas, who left the social network in 2012, likened social media “to a slot machine” and described leaving the platform as feeling like “quitting cigarettes”. Adding that others at the company, while he was there, were aware of the risk it was posing.

An example of this risk becoming an addictive reality can be seen in former Facebook employee Leah Pearlman.

Pearlman, who co-invented Facebook’s famous ‘like’ button, told the BBC that she had become hooked on the social network.

“When I need validation – I go to check Facebook,” she said. “I’m feeling lonely, ‘Let me check my phone.’ I’m feeling insecure, Let me check my phone.’”

Facebook facing criticism from former executives over how addictive its platforms are isn’t an entirely new scenario.

Last year, Facebook’s former vice president of user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya said “the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we created are destroying how society works”.

In order to fight tech addiction, a group of former employees from the likes of Facebook, Google, Mozilla, and Nvidia joined forces in February to challenge tech giants on how their products cause tech addiction.