It may turn out that the boomers were right – mobile phones and social media is going to kill you.
Well, not directly. Social media networks have algorithms specifically programmed to profit from your attention, regardless of how the content they serve can affect you.
The Social Dilemma is able to simplify this technical concept, thanks to the help of experts and former employees. This includes a Director of Monetization for Facebook, Coinventor of Google Drive, Senior VP of Engineering from Twitter, a Social Psychologist from NYU, and a Professor from Harvard Business School.
The documentary mixes these interviews with dramatized footage (which includes a special effects model) to visualize how social media usage can influence and manipulate a person’s behavior. Social media has become a place where people accept whatever reality is presented to them, while also confirming their own bias. It warps their perception of the world which demagogues can take advantage of.
The doc points out Kyrie Irving, who got convinced that the earth is flat by YouTube recommendations. There’s a quick snippet of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa mentioning Facebook in an interview.
But while the first part of the film is able to clearly state the problem and outline ethical issues, The Social Dilemma spends more of its time as a fear-inducing Op-Ed that doesn’t really present anything new.
How social media networks track and monitor users to sell ads has been discussed as far back as 2015. Their negative impact on mental health, privacy and politics is not new news either.
The Social Dilemma is able to hit the main problem – imagine a world where no one knows what is the truth. But the documentary uses a scripted and contrived story of a teen to show how social media can sow discord, rather than elaborate on how it can be weaponized to build upheaval online and turn it into a movement offline.
More importantly, The Social Dilemma doesn’t provide a clear answer to the obvious question – how do you fix the source of a problem that society needs to function?
To be fair, the title of the documentary is The Social Dilemma, and it’s able to clearly present what that dilemma is. Tackling remote warfare using disinformation-for-profit model in-depth is compelling, but Jeff Orlowski may find himself in a mysterious misfortune with poison.
The Social Dilemma is still an effective call to action, even if it’s myopic and doesn’t present a practical solution.
The Social Dilemma
The Social Dilemma effectively unravels troubling ethical issues caused by unchecked social media capitalism but devolves into a fear-inducing Op-Ed that doesn't provide a practical solution.