“Making you angry, making you afraid, is really good for Facebook's business. It is not good for America.”
Former Facebook insiders and a design ethicist spoke with NBC News about how they say “Facebook has failed its users — and what, if anything, can be done to rein in its power.” The short version: design has real-world consequences, and when the only purpose of design is to help a platform earn more money, watch out.
NBC interviewed Roger McNamee, a former adviser to Zuckerberg and an early investor in Facebook; Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months; and Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google (who, it should be noted, is a Facebook competitor).
“One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," former Facebook manager Sandy Parakilas says in the interviews.
"Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election — and only they have full access to what happened," says tech ethicist Tristan Harris.
"What people don't know about or see about Facebook is that polarization is built in to the business model," Harris tells NBC News. "Polarization is profitable."
There's a reason Facebook prioritizes user growth. The more data a person shares with Facebook, the more advertisements can target a user, which makes users that much more valuable to Facebook.
It's not just your name and age. Facebook can also track your likes, the content you write, your purchases and your location.
McNamee said the formula simply isn't good for democracy.
"All the content is stuff that you like, right? It's what they think you like. But what it really is, is stuff that serves their business model and their profits," he said. "And making you angry, making you afraid, is really good for Facebook's business. It is not good for America. It's not good for the users of Facebook."
Last fall, Facebook disclosed to congressional investigators that 150 million Americans were exposed to advertisements placed by Russians on Facebook and Instagram, the photo-sharing app it owns.
McNamee said he first realized content was being used to manipulate Facebook users during the first 2016 Democratic primary. He said he sounded the alarm to Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in an email, and said he heard back from both in a "matter of hours."
"They treated it like a public relations problem, rather than a substantive issue for the business," McNamee said.
Parakilas said he spoke up about possible issues before the company went public in May 2012. He said he showed senior executives how Facebook could be co-opted by foreign governments, but said no action was taken.
"It makes me terrified that something that I had a small part in helping to build is being used by people with really bad intent against America," he said. "They don't have sides. They're just trying to sow chaos."
Harris said, "I think Zuckerberg personally needs to feel the weight of this on his personal shoulders.