The Social Dilemma (2020) is a docu-drama on Netflix which looks into the exploitation of users of social media and the effects of phone addictions. It explores scary facts about our data and makes you think twice about the morals of huge social media companies, such as Facebook. The docu-drama breaks out into cartoons, sci-fi scenes and many more making it an ever-changing and fascinating watch, keeping eyes glued to the screen.
The first idea that took me by surprise in The Social Dilemma was when expert Tim Kendall, who worked with Facebook, explained that in the early days of Facebook, it was only a small group of employees running it. This meant the group of 25 men in California, running Facebook, could influence how millions of users absorb social media. The power a small group of social media experts held was overwhelming, but still not much has changed. Although companies such as Facebook currently employ approximately 50,000+ this makes no comparison to the number of people who use the platform, at over 1 billion!
The constant tracking of our interests was a huge part of the documentary. The tracking of every like, comment, share and how long you spend on each page is making them money! By gaining more and more information on each of us, the experts can make predictions on what we want to see next, which in turn makes them profit from our data preferences.
A common myth of social media companies selling our data was also tackled in the documentary. This was proven to be a myth, as it is often not in the social media platforms interest to sell your data, it’s to make the best model that keeps you coming back. Coming back means money for these businesses, as you, therefore, see more ads and feed their database.
The Netflix show was not shy of facing up to the undeniable correlation in youth suicide rates, and the rise of social media. The documentary explores how Gen-Z kids were the first generation to get on social media in the early teen years, and the effects of this. Expert Jonathan Haidt, PhD, a social psychologist explained these effects can be seen not only in suicide and depression rates but also in their personalities.
“The whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed. They’re much less comfortable taking risks. The rates at which they get driver’s licenses have been dropping, the number who have ever gone out on a date or had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly. This is a real change in a generation” – Jonathan Haidt, PhD.
Scarily, following this was the narrative of ‘we’ll learn to live with the devices’ – this was challenged by experts as the owners of these companies are using your data to keep you hooked. It is described in the documentary as a ‘digital pacifier’ – and no secret is made of the fact that it is only getting more addictive, and adapting to consume your entire life.
Justin Rosenstein, who worked as a former engineer for both Google and Facebook explained that we live in a world whereby a tree is worth more dead than alive. The exact same idea with whales and as long as our society lives like this, they will continue to demolish their own, for-profit, despite destroying our planet, leaving an even more damaged world for future generations. “This is short-term thinking based on this religion of profit at all costs… now we’re the tree, we’re the whale. Our attention can be mined. We are more profitable to a corporation if we’re spending time staring at a screen”– Justin Rosenstein.
Justin Rosenstein’s point here resonated with me as these platforms profit from us best when we are staring at the screens, not when we are living our life to the fullest, which is the very sad reality of todays society.
The idea was discussed that if platforms such as Facebook were taxed by the number of data assets they own on each person, like many other companies outside of social media are, they would stop striving to find out everything about everyone. There are ethical ways of controlling social media, but the huge profits being gained by their current models are perfect for the owners behind the platforms.
The Social Dilemma, available on Netflix is a must-watch for anyone intrigued on learning the effects of social media, as it affects everyone. At an hour and a half long, it is the perfect documentary to open up our ideas to the reality of the virtual world we are consumed by.