The Social-Validation Feedback Loop (#613)

"God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains," confesses Sean Parker who was Facebook's founding president. Facebook designers intentionally made their platform physiologically addictive to give the user a dopamine hit when people "liked" their posting, or responded with a positive comment. They called it the social-validation feedback loop, and not only does it play directly into human brokenness, but it also is behind all social media platforms and many video games. As bad as that is, it's even worse when people don't feel validated by their social media. Sociologists are only beginning to wrestle with the collateral damage to those who aren't popular in social media and credit the problem to increased teen depression and suicide. Wayne and Brad dive into this dilemma and the conversations we need to be having to help ourselves and our children resist this sinister force.

Podcast Notes:
Axios Interview with Sean Parker, the first President of Facebook
Time Magazine article on Children and social media
Time Magazine: "Is Your Kid Hooked on Smartphones? 5 Tips for Parents"
The latest news from our project in Kenya
Add your voice to our question/comment line via Skype at "TheGodJourney"


  1. This got me so wired up that I had to write my reply in OpenOffice Writer and then paste it in here.

    Thank you both for digging deeply into what is probably the most pressing problem in today’s world. It’s like high school all the time, for the whole world; your “Lord of the Flies” image is apt.
    But it shouldn’t be surprising, because today’s parents grew up spending way too much time glued to their TVs. Granted, this wasn’t a feedback loop, but it drew people into being passively entertained and “validated” them through different types of shows: Twilight Zone or The Beverly Hillbillies or GE Theater appealed to radically different minds, so most everybody could find a comfortable place.
    But it also severely shortened their attention span. I was born in 1943, was 9 when we got our first TV. I had long since developed a voracious reading habit. I noticed right off that a movie was NEVER as good as the book which had inspired it, and I wondered why. Also, when I was a boy, story telling was an art. My dad was a raconteur, one of those who, when he began a story, conversation would cease and everyone around would listen; didn’t matter that some of the stories were quite long. Nowadays people won’t tolerate that, they want sound bites and short quips. Reading and listening to spoken stories are active entertainment demanding the reader or listener use his/her imagination; TV is passive.
    This set the stage for the “TV is the best baby sitter” scenario – talk about addictive! So when cell phones came out, here was a way the parents could relate to to not only keep track of their kids but actually tie the kids to themselves – sort of electronic apron strings.
    As you mentioned, this can be good, and it does indeed have a dark side
    Kind of ironic to be notified of this (and for me to share it) on Facebook…

    Oh, and capitalism is a system of (mostly) private ownership of the means of production of wealth, usually for profit. The best system there is, as long as it has some regulations – but who is there beside the same broken people to regulate it?

  2. WOW !!! Now I very very clearly know why I’ve never felt comfortable getting a Facebook account,,,!! And it’s that much more of a sure thing that I’ll never ever ever have one !!! Very enlightening for sure,,,

  3. So what are we to do now that we are tapped into Facebookland? I don’t use any other social media but I like following friends on FB, seeing their pictures, being prompted to pray for them if in crisis, rejoice with them in celebrations, etc. There would be a level of sadness if my friends and family just dropped FB now. I don’t know what others experience but my experience has been that many people rarely pick up or return calls. And it seems rude to just drop on by when not invited but maybe I need to be a little more rude? I know that social skills have changed since the advent of social media but do you think there is going to be a return to the way it use to be? Perhaps we need to find a new way forward but I don’t know what that looks like just yet. Thanks for passing this info on to us.

    • Nancy, go ahead and use Facebook in a meaningful way. The podcast was not about we should all give it up, but that we need to be careful how we use it. If we find ourselves unduly influenced by the dopamine hit (or lack of it), then look for a way to engage Facebook without it. It is a GREAT way to keep up with family and friends in our lives, that’s for sure. The challenge is to manage it for our use, and not let Facebook’s algorithms draw us into more activity than is healthy for us. Only you can know where that works for you. Ask the Spirit to show you. And it definitely helps to have our significance resolved in Christ and his love for us, so we don’t need the social validation feedback loop.

      Go ahead and invite people for more personal engagements when you like. Most people like to be invited over or to find some time together. Let people know you don’t mind them dropping in at times, though many won’t do it.

  4. Thanks for your insight Wayne. This is something I have been wondering about all year so it was timely to have this podcast at the end of the year.

  5. Fuss Book, Face book, or whatever you refer to it as, has never been A thing for me. I guess I am relatively old school, no? Phone calls , heart felt emails, cards or letters ( something someone has put some heart felt thought into), yes. For a very short tenure of around 2 months I used it. The idea was simple enough – keep up with the newer generation of the family… I really only used the most private way of communicating possible, but most everyone wanted the world to know their every thought or emotion. Oh my…what a self absorbed confessional and mess that was! Context was no where insight, one nephew was the world’s victim, little bleeding hearts all over the place – you get the idea? So, there I was back to square one – knowing nothing valuable about my kin. I left that mess and went to the tried and true method of plain old speech to check in with those of my kin. For those youngsters who have no idea of who they are yet…you don’t need every voice inside your head telling you about the you no one but Christ can truly reveal. Take a deep breath and tell Father about it; when you really need someone with true wisdom, He will send it your way.

  6. Wayne, thank you for starting this conversation. It has churned so many thoughts within me since I listened to it yesterday. I think I’m just a few years ahead of the generation that knows nothing but social media. I remember resisting texting when it first came out because I wanted real conversations with people. Yep….I text now. All the time. Often I find the urge to text instead of talk. Just saying that out loud saddens me in a way. We kept our son from socail media until he turned 18. Now, it was easier for us because he didn’t want it or need it in his life. I’m so thankful we did. I know I love it for all the same reasons you mentioned. I would be sad frankly to not have it to see all that my sweet great niece is doing, my former students, my family, and my friends. However, I at the end of my 40’s still see how the green monster, anger, etc. can rise it’s ugly head and get to me. I can’t even imagine how our teens deal with it. And according to the times article, they aren’t. As a teacher, I feel frightened and alarmed. Most of my kids parents are the generation of knowing nothing different. I feel compelled to warn them, but fear they won’t understand. I think the thing that bothered me so much about the statement from S Paker was it was intentionally done to consume us. I’m not so much mad at them. I’m focusing my anger on the ENEMY who has set forth a plan to kill, steal, and destroy. He knows that stealing from us weakens us. I can admit, I have allowed him to steal my time with family and friends by the use of this tool. But, no more. I have coursed a new plan. As with all addictive things, we have to be engaged, aware, and determined to not give in. And we have to admit we are easy prey. Thank you again for starting the conversation. I posted it today on my FB page to keep it going.

    And, you and Brad made me think I need to research capitalism…LOL.

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