Eric Schmidt, welcome to the techlash.
In an interview with podcaster and actor Dax Shepard, posted Thursday, the former Google CEO and Alphabet chairman said that social media companies are designed to "maximize outrage" in pursuit of revenue. It was a rare condemnation of the industry from a man who, as head honcho of YouTube's parent company, directly oversaw one of the most powerful social media companies in the world.
"Corporations, at least in social media land, are optimizing, maximizing revenue. You maximize revenue, you maximize engagement. To maximize engagement, you maximize outrage," Schmidt said. "The same is true on television news networks, by the way."
The comment came up during a discussion on the Armchair Expert podcast, where Shepard interviewed Schmidt about his new book, "The Age of AI," which he co-wrote with Henry Kissinger and computer scientist Daniel Huttenlocher. Shepard and Schmidt were discussing what more technology can do to address big societal issues, including homelessness, when Schmidt shifted the conversation to social media addiction. "In fact, I would argue the current industry focus, which is around revenue, is in fact playing into the addiction capabilities of every human," he said. "What happens with social media, is you essentially become [addicted]."
It's not the first time Schmidt has spoken critically about the industry that he helped build since he stepped down from Alphabet's board in 2019. He's also warned against the dangers of AI and the folly of believing the metaverse will be any less messed up than the physical world.
But while tech leaders often talk about defending against the ways technology can be misused, they rarely get caught admitting that what their critics often accuse them of — the relentless pursuit of profit over all else — is actually true.