The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma

Savannah Andrews, Staff Reporter

The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, released January 26, 2020, and directed by Jeff Orlowski is eye-opening, deals with issues of the internet, and social media. The film interviews people previously employed at companies such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram who delve into the inner-workings of how they function. This film is thought out and works to help viewers understand how social media affects them personally.

The film shows exactly how computer programs work and how it affects people. It gets into the dark side of the web and how everything done is to manipulate its users. The beginning of the film is overwhelming with how much information is given within a few minutes, goes very fast, and shows what is really going on at these companies.

This film is biased in favoring how bad technology is for users, but in the beginning, it does also point out a few positive points. Social media platforms can be a cause for good, as it what it was originally intended for. Some people are reunited with lost family members through social media or others seeking help for receiving organ donations are just as some examples from the film. Although social media is no longer being used for only good depending on who is controlling these companies.

The film is eye-opening, but in a scary way; Gen Z is the first to really have technology at a young age, the oldest of this generation started in middle school, and now kids in elementary school or younger are living in a world of all technology. I am Gen Z and while watching this I related to how normal it is to us no–  I got a phone in middle school and my younger siblings got one in elementary. Technology affects everyone, but in the biggest way, it affects teens. In 2011-2013 depression and suicide rates in teenagers skyrocketed, mostly in girls, “These services are killing people and causing people to kill themselves,” Says Tim Kendall, Former executive of Facebook, former president of Pinterest, and current CEO of Moment. Social media platforms all seem to be looking for perfection and attention. When we don’t fit that standard or the little bubble we are ‘supposed’ to be in, it makes people feel bad for not being perfect.

People can no longer believe everything that they read, as there is so much misinformation out there that it’s hard to tell what is real. Incorrect news is everywhere and it can travel six times as fast on Twitter than real news at times. This can be taken even further when the Internet spreads conspiracy theories. Most people believe that Google is just a search engine that will share the truth, but that is not true– search engines don’t know what is true, other than what they can do with a click. I see this all the time, on the contrary to what we may believe, we do believe just about everything online.

Society has just adapted this presence into day to day activity, but Tristan Harris, a former employee of Google asks, “Is this normal, or are we under some kind of spell?” The whole world is getting too addicted to the Internet. Why are we so addicted? Everyone anywhere is being monitored, and these programs use an algorithm to predict what kind of videos, apps, products, and websites people will click on or be interested in next. The computer learns more and more about people any time they click on a post, and it does this to keep them on the app longer. The film likened refreshing a social media feed to a slot machine in Las Vegas– you never know what will come up next. It’s a game of chance, and every time someone refreshes, different pictures and videos pop up that they have no control over.

Most social media and search engines are referred to as tools, but they’re not. Tools do not try to manipulate, rather, they sit there waiting to be used. Social media sites try to lure people in and keep them on. Take for example, notifications. If someone gets a notification it’s hard not to look at it, and if it’s interesting enough most people will open the app and stay on for a long amount of time getting distracted. Seeing someone type in a messaging app is also a way to keep people on longer. If a person sees someone typing, they’re more likely to keep it open before the text is even sent, thus keeping them on the app longer. I am guilty of this and I think we all are. Like lab rats, it’s all about manipulation; social media can change people and make them do things they never thought they could. It’s all a slight change, but it is to potentially get people interested in an ad that can make these companies more money. Social media can change a person’s thoughts and perceptions before they even know anything is happening to them. It is a slight gradual change over time.

People use social media because it’s the cool thing to do as opposed to the right thing to do. It’s so addictive, there is so much misinformation, and it’s manipulative. “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users:’ illegal drugs and software,” said Edward Tufte, quoted in the documentary.  At the rate of this development, social media and technology could bring on a utopia or a dystopia.