Directed By: Jeff Orlowski
Written By: Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis, and Jeff Orlowski
Streaming on Netflix: September 9, 2020
Runtime: 94 minutes
Studio: Expsoure Labs/Netflix
Starring: Skyler Gisondo, Tristan Harris, Kara Hayward
Social media is not a safe haven, nor is it as beneficial as it may have been when it was first introduced. The algorithm these platforms use is designed to predict your every next move. It will never know the difference between truth and reason, as those are a human experience alone. It doesn’t care to understand that. Its one goal is to keep you engrossed. The Social Dilemma highlights these areas and makes for a compelling thought-provoking subject that is literally quite terrifying.
There is an interesting comparison in the movie when it shows the graph of how fast computing process power has become since the dawn of computers, and it has skyrocketed since then. Mankind’s computing power was right there alongside it as technology evolved, however, the moment social media was introduced, our processing power plateaued, whereas AI and computers have surpassed us in unimaginable ways. Just think about that for a second. If these algorithms are designed to predict our every move, then that means it’s designed to eventually make our decisions for us before they’re even a thought. It’s a mindless addiction, and we are now seeing the extreme consequences of being so reliant on it, especially seeing these broken messages of fake news, of political outcries, and a misrepresentation of what it means to be compassionate and sincere. The Social Dilemma doesn’t only talk about the bad side of social media. There are plenty of interviews with these tech gurus who have positive things to say about it, which was a nice balance to the overall “oh no, this isn’t good” thought process..
Those they interviewed admitted the creation of these platforms was not meant to cause a distraction in our society, as many benefits came from it such as: connecting with lost family members, allowing easy promotion of one’s work, and showing you care by interacting with somebody else’s post. They admit they were naive with not looking at the other side of the coin when they flipped it to take a chance. And it seems like the flip side is pretty much where we are now. Fake articles being circulated, manipulated photos, mass shootings going live, people recording their deaths, etc. A vast majority of those they interview throughout the documentary reflect on what it has become from where it all started, and in doing so it forces us as viewers to take a step back and realize just how skewed of a reality we have been living since the dawn of integrating social media in our daily lives.
The Social Dilemma touches on a few things I have been wondering for the last few weeks. I asked friends on my profiles if people use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. for personal use, or if they use it for self-promoting. The reason I asked is because I feel like there has to be a fine line with all of this information that these companies have on us. The second you try to merge the two, by personally using it and self-promoting, is when these platforms showcase their ugly sides. If you post something personal, you risk losing network opportunities because somebody doesn’t agree with your views. If you use it for promotion, you lose out on the sense of connecting with others, which is what these platforms were originally designed to do. It’s a dilemma.
As the film went on, it caused me to reflect on the current content on the platforms. Now, it’s just full of endless memes, false narratives, depressing news, and influencers who think stealing a prank idea and re-sharing it will garner them more money. They don’t care about who their fan base is, or what kind of content they produce. They have zero thought about the consequences of producing content that has ill effects on those watching it. They just want the clicks and revenue from the ad placements. There is no more sense of being connected. It’s not like it was when it first came out. It’s an endless void where you can scream and hear your own echo. There is no individualism as everybody is fighting for the attention.
That goes hand-in-hand with another quote from the documentary that basically says, “The second you use a free service, you are no longer the consumer. You are the product.” There are no regulations on what these platforms can collect and sell to others. So, while we are so fixated on an endless cycle of news, terror, memes, etc., the reality we once existed in pre-social media gets dismantled, and that alone has hindered any evolution of the human condition.
This documentary also shows how social media tries to normalize behavior that is not normal at all. We can see this everywhere we look. For example (and this is a true story), just the other night there was a commercial for a dating site where they tried to market feeling separated, but connected, as being normal. It’s not normal. We are in the middle of a pandemic right now as I type this, and these companies have the audacity to exploit the mental health of individuals just so they can get a profit. You know what’s sad? I know for a fact people fell for that. Trying to normalize anything of that sort will only add complications to our already skewed social interactions.
What I learned from this documentary is you cannot adapt to social media. You can only unplug or plugin. It’s already adapted to you. To us. To the world. There is no “beating the algorithm”. The only way to do so is to permanently delete all media. If you don’t, then this algorithm will know you more than you know yourself and the ones who have to suffer from those consequences are us. That is terrifying. It got me to think and to question about my profiles. Do I really need them? It’d be too easy to blame just the presence of social media for where we are in our pandemic world (at the time of writing this), but I want to take it a step further. Just as social media makes it easy to connect with others and enables us to network across the continent and world, we are the ones who have enabled the sow of hatred, division, and the chaos around the world by being afraid to delete it entirely. While we predictably suffer at the hands of an alogorithm that doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, there are people making millions off the revenues. They’re the consumers which also have zero consequences for invading our privacy, our well-being, and our sense of being connected to ourselves. What more can we do? We’ve tried to hold them accountable, but they’re untouchable because we keep giving them what they want.
Just think about it for a few minutes. What would life be like if we got rid of all of the platforms? How can we improve our livelihoods by focusing our attention on something else rather than an endless pit of memes, fabrications, and over-hyped content? The Social Dilemma offers us a solution, but are we going to wake up and realize we have more potential than an algorithm whose only aim is to keep you addicted and engrossed? That’s what makes The Social Dilemma worth watching and discussing. There are conversations that are of deep value embedded in this film.
You can watch it on Netflix right now.
The Social Dilemma gets 4.5/5 stars.