The social dilemma is a documentary that I recommend everyone to watch. The Netflix original film’s purpose us to reflect the impact of social networks and technology companies over our contemporary society. The documentary is created by Jeff Orlowski, written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe and Vickie Curtis, starring ex-former employees of the big tech companies and professors who are specialists in this matter. It blends real and fictional facts.
In the real narrative, we follow testimonials from several experts in the technology industry, who quit their jobs on social networks and apps such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, because they experienced ethical dilemmas with their own ideas and creations. In the other side, the fictional story – which serves as a ‘skein’ to tie real interviews and passages; follows the story of an American family whose conflict is caused by the rampant use of social media, which affects the family relationships and communication. The idea of mixing fiction and factual stories honestly doesn’t work. The film shows us silly and embarrassing storylines, didactic dialogues, and performances of dubious taste, such as the teenager who is disgusted with her mother because she had decided to lock her family’s mobile phones into a container, during the meal, but she has an addiction crisis and breaks it to get her mobile phone; or the Artificial Intelligence’s scenes showing how bad it is, how we human beings are naive and controlled like a ventriloquist by it. It looks like a simulation of an American auditorium TV programme that proposes to discuss family dramas. This fiction is tacky, sensationalist and devalues the strength that the plot demands.
Concerning the guidelines discussed, the balance is positive. Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, and one of the developers of Gmail, and also president and co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, is a major character in this movie. He comes up with the best questions about the effect of social networks on the transformation of humanity and its consequences. Harris effectively explains how technology companies sell users to their advertisers and make billions on the pretext of offering us a free service.
“We are a product, with distinct tastes, friendships, unique thoughts and habits, that every social network knows and thus we become slaves to a marketing based on satisfaction of use and virtual consumption,” Harris says.
Another topic is how social networks affect self-esteem and human fragility, especially among adolescents – that it would explain the increase of suicides among this age group in the last decade. Young people who grew up with the boom of social networks and apps seek to find their tribes, their identities, and to be accepted. The thermometer of their popularity is how many likes and subscription they can get. If they didn’t get many likes and comments about their posts, they would feel disapproved and failed, and as a consequence, they would threat their mental health.
According to Harris, “we are training and conditioning an entire generation of people who, when they feel uncomfortable, lonely or afraid, use ‘digital pacifiers’ to calm themselves and this will atrophy our ability to deal with things”.
The film highlights how social media has put people inside bubbles. The population starts to follow and inform themselves only with what it is appropriate, such as the same political positions and personal tastes. They start to “follow” or “enjoy” whatever pleases them. Automatically those who think differently become enemies. The search for information from secure sources becomes an obsolete practice in the “users best practise”. Most of them think it won’t be necessary to have a critical thought about the information received, contrast two points of views, etc. It is easier and more practical to align with subjects and opinions that appeal to the individual’s absolute belief than to contradict oneself.
The spread of fake news is a reflection of this bubble of convenience, which has decisively influenced democracies and cultures, such as the interference in the 2016 elections in the United States, with the victory of Trump or, the conquest of the far-right politician Bolsonaro as a President of Brazil; in addition to disseminating hate speech against immigrants, blacks, LGBTQ population and women feminism.
Social networks become fertile space for polarization, a concrete change for civilization, capable of threatening the existence of humanity, capable of provoking a new World War, according to the specialists. An important example point that Tristan says is that artificial intelligence starts to address issues related to the theme that the user identifies, which increases the feeling of living in a parallel universe.
The ex-employees of the big tech companies attack the negligence of these companies to solve this problem that they have caused. In this regard, the documentary hits the mark: if social networks are willing to make money from, for example, political propaganda, they need to be responsible for protecting the elections, keeping fake news out of the process. Therefore, they need to create really effective tools to stop fake news, hate content and the like, since artificial intelligence as it exists today, is not capable of sorting it out. It does not have a standard of what is true, since they are based on clicks “.
Finally, the documentary does well to point the finger at an issue that has been debated by the world, albeit in a timid way: the lack of regulation for big techs companies. The experts interviewed say they are stuck in a business model that only focuses on quarterly earnings, coupled with pressure from shareholders. Add that to the absence of regulation, competition and rules, and big techs turned into hard-to-stop monsters, acting like governments. An interesting suggestion proposed by the experts is to impose fees on obtaining and processing data, in the same way, that we pay, for example, a water or electricity bill. A law that covers corporate taxes on the amount of data they collect would create a taxable reason why big techs don’t have to capture data indiscriminately.
Perhaps, the main point that Netflix’s production proves to be wrong is when it comes to treating user manipulation as if everyone were naive and without responsibility for their actions over networks. Traditional media and marketing have always manipulating the population, most people already have a certain understanding of this marketing strategy. There is no doubt about the responsibility of technology companies, colluding governments, large corporations that advertise in these new media, but human beings are also responsible for the indiscriminate use on social networks.
The narrative structure of the film ends up becoming Manichae: technology companies like villains and users like poor innocent victims. The director and the cast gave up on the issue. They showed the numerous problems, but were modest in pointing out practical and effective solutions, in addition to taking responsibility for the chaos installed for themselves as well. The climax did not happen, as the answers remained open and the documentary’s storyline is far away from ending.
Check out the oficial trailer:
If you have any suggestion or complaint, please feel free to send an email to me at email@example.com