The Social Dilemma (A Review)

During the fall, I noticed a little bit of chatter by some of my (virtual) co-workers about this Netflix documentary called, The Social Dilemma. I brushed it aside, as one, I didn't have Netflix, and two, it wasn't going to tell me anything I didn't already know after using and working in social media for over a decade. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend updated her reading list on Goodreads and the title of what she was currently reading grabbed my attention: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier. Intrigued, I sent her a text asking for a review of the book after she'd read it, and she told me that she was reading it after hearing it mentioned in The Social Dilemma

Being a typical INTJ, I decided to research this documentary, and ended up spending the next couple of days watching it (hey, I have five kids, meaning I don't usually have 1.5 hours of undisturbed time available, so everything takes longer). I work online, I've had Facebook since 2007, I've used Pinterest since 2011, I've been on Twitter since 2012, and I have a 16 year old daughter who is glued to her phone. I thought I knew it all...but as it turns out...I just had a rough idea.   

{Image Credit Robin Worrall via Unspash}

First things first...I don't have Netflix, so I did a quick internet search and found a site online where I could watch it. Honestly...this should be readily available for everyone to watch, but that would require putting it on YouTube, and...well, if you watch the documentary, you'll realize why that will never happen. But I digress. The point is, even if you don't have Netflix, you can find a way to see it. And you should. 

The list of people featured in this film reads like a who's who of the social media world, including former social media CEOs, design managers, software engineers, design consultants, early employees of the top social media sites, the creator of the Facebook "like" button, and more. In other words, they know what they're talking about when they begin to share insights into how the framework of social media was designed to manipulate you and use your data as a product for others to buy. It sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory when stated in that way, but after an hour and a half of this, I was ready to close everything, including my Google-hosted blog. But I haven't...yet.

I really enjoyed the fact that it was both documentary and film (fun fact: one of the main characters of the film portion is played by Skyler Gisondo, who played Young Shawn in later seasons of Psych). I appreciated how the side story clearly demonstrated what the experts were saying, and could very well play out in real life. In fact, as I watched the film portion, and considered what was being said in the documentary, all I could think about was role social media played in the 2020 BLM/white extremist clashes and ensuing riots, the fiasco masquerading as a presidential election, and even the spread of Coronavirus information (and misinformation). I didn't have to be convinced that this was taking place, but the confirmation of it by so many who genuinely knew what they were talking about was, indeed, sobering.

To sum up: Social media is the seller. Various causes, parties, nations, and officials are the buyer. And we, ladies and gentlemen, are the product being offered up to the highest bidder. One of the quotes/ideas from the film that stuck out to me the most went something like this...
If you think that everyone thinks like you, then social media has done its job, because they have tuned the buttons, based on your likes, clicks, searches, and purchases, until you are convinced that you are absolutely in the right, and everyone else is either insane or stupid for not seeing the truth.
Gone are the days when rational discourse and actual facts won the day. Gone, too, are the days of innocently clicking around the internet or liking a page on Facebook and thinking if you make your likes private, no one will know. If you click on a YouTube video suggestion, pay attention to the fact that you suddenly start to see suggestions for similar videos, usually leading farther and farther one direction or the other. When a former Google software engineer says he will no longer use Google as a search engine and recommends European-based Qwant, you might consider listening. 

George Orwell's 1984 is upon us, in more ways than one, and while it's never time to panic, I do believe it's time to get our heads out of the sand. While any information shared and any time spent online will always put you at risk, gaining a better understanding of what it is we're facing and the beasts we're dealing with gives us one leg up in the game, and not voluntarily playing it...well, that's always a viable option as well. 

Have you seen The Social Dilemma
What did YOU think?

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