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Facebook critics need some 'perspective,' says author of book on addictive software

  • The author of a best-selling book on product design says the ongoing criticism of social media companies is "very healthy" yet in need of some "perspective."
  • "It's great that we're looking at the industry with a critical lens, [and] very healthy for us to ask whether technology is serving us or we are serving it," says Nir Eyal.
  • "But we need to keep some perspective," says Eyal. "If you uninstall Facebook, there's nothing Mark Zuckerberg can do about it."
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.
Getty Images | CNBC
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

The author of a best-selling book on designing technology products says the ongoing criticism of social media companies is "very healthy" yet in need of some "perspective."

"It's great that we're looking at the industry with a critical lens, [and] very healthy for us to ask whether technology is serving us or we are serving it," said Nir Eyal, author of the 2013 book "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products."

"But we need to keep some perspective," added Eyal, who has taught a course at Stanford University based on the principles in his book.

"We're not freebasing Facebook or injecting Instagram. If you turn off notifications from Twitter, they won't bother you. If you uninstall Facebook, there's nothing Mark Zuckerberg can do about it."

His comments, made in a phone interview with CNBC, come as criticism of Facebook, Google and Twitter intensifies.

Some of their former employees recently formed a group called the Center for Humane Technology that's dedicated to weaning users away from the technologies they helped build.

Last week a group of child advocates called on Facebook to shut down a version of its Messenger Kids app targeted at children.

That criticism comes after Facebook's own research unit found that passively consuming content on the site, rather than using it to connect with others, can be bad for users' mental health.

'We're not helpless'

While he applauds the intentions of those wanting to counteract the negative impact of heavy social media use, Eyal says the techniques being used by these companies can also be used for positive outcomes.

"The same techniques used by Facebook are also used to help people exercise more, save money, learn a new language or stay connected with loved ones."

It's important for online consumers to remember that they ultimately have control over their online behavior, according to Eyal. If not, little may change.

"Users need to be proactive," Eyal said. "If we sit around holding our breath, waiting for companies to change, it may never happen."

Although some have referred to the problem of heavy social media use as an addiction, Eyal says there's an important distinction.

"We're not helpless and these products are not irresistible. An addiction is when you know something's bad for you, (you) want to stop and can't. It's not the product itself but the interaction between the product and the user. A lot of people get morphine in the hospital but only a tiny fraction get addicted."