- - Monday, December 4, 2017

In an interview with Axios, Facebook cofounder Sean Parker revealed the founders purposefully created a social network that’s addictive: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

If our brains are programmed to be hooked on Facebook like an addict craving his next opioid hit, does that mean we are Skinnerian automatons fleeced of our free will? Is Facebook now an excuse for being unable to get a job, an education, or the failure to be a good family provider? Not a chance. Facebook addiction mustn’t be a free pass for not exercising the accountability, self-will and self-direction that has formed the history of America, birthed through rugged individualism and Yankee ingenuity.

There are some who argue after learning of Facebook’s master strategy that the Silicon Valley-based platform should be taken away or regulated like tobacco or a Class 3 drug because it stimulates dopamine hits in our brains via likes and comments to our posts. This feedback loop is what keeps people engaged. How is this any different than the entertainment industry? TV, movies and news are programmed to captivate and hold your attention and strike an emotionally charged response with neurochemical fireworks.

Doesn’t Smith & Wesson exploit human psychology? What about Budweiser commercials during the Super Bowl, or Jay Z selling his latest single? Less interactive mediums still release dopamine in an equally effective way. The greatness of any TV show is its mastery at capturing an audience’s attention. Some would say that is a bad thing, but depending on the content offered, is it bad to make someone addictive to his screen if it adds information that can empower his life?

Imagine a world without a Facebook that offers the ability to destroy anti-American and anti-democratic regimes because of the communication and organizational power of the platform. Facebook led to the Arab Spring, which changed the face of the Middle East and took out Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. It remains one of the ultimate, viral First Amendment exhibits that not only connects and engages users but allows Americans to take social and political action like modern-day Paul Reveres.

Consider how social media platforms like Facebook balance the power of the established media. In the era of fake news, Facebook allows like-minded groups to connect with people whom they may have never met and join together as agents of political change. The Trump campaign utilized this phenomenon and went further by leveraging Facebook and its micro-targeting as a weapon for conservatives to help to win key battleground states that led to the presidency. The Trump campaign’s digital director, Brad Parscale, told CBS’ “60 Minutes,” “Twitter is how Trump talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won.”

To argue for the regulation of social platforms owing to their potential harm fails to acknowledge that if you have a dangerous person, anything handy can serve as a weapon. You can make a hammer dangerous, an in-ground pool, a pillow or a gun, and perhaps even a social media platform. But personal responsibility, which is a pillar of Americanism, is not just for gun owners but for Facebook users.

The same people who think Facebook can somehow cause massive devastation to the brain are often the people who push censorship of video games, movies and the suppression of speech. “The Matrix” did not cause the Columbine shooting and certainly video games do not cause guns to fire themselves. If you have personal responsibility, you can watch Arnold Schwarzenegger terminate people on the silver screen without performing “Terminator 2” actions, or driving your car off a cliff after watching “The Fast and the Furious.”

It’s fair to question the motives and strategy of the Facebook founders, but to then compare their motives to those of the tobacco industry, which for years denied the addictive properties of nicotine, is a stretch that seems to ignore the foundations of free speech, free will and individual responsibility. One can quit smoking, much like one can quit Facebook. These actions are not the responsibility of Facebook, but the responsibility of the individual. Parental and individual responsibility are the granite foundation of civilized society in America. It is up to each American to manage his actions in a time when technology seems to reach out to grab our attention, boundaries and emotions.

Eric Schiffer is chairman and CEO of Patriarch Equity.

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