The Student
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Netflix’s The Social Dilemma: Scaremongering or scarily accurate?
by Sophie Smedegaard, 3/10/20

Netflix’s latest release that has the world buzzing is their docudrama, The Social Dilemma. The title itself reveals the subject at hand: the dilemma of the tight grasp social media has on society. One might speculate on why this has become a topic worthy of debate yet again considering the vast majority of us are aware of our obsession with the digital universe and the thought of having another authoritative figure lecturing us really isn’t too appealing.

After listening to my sister describe her experience of watching The Social Dilemma with our father who, on cue every two minutes, would say “I told you so” or look at her with superior, raised eyebrows, I decided that this was a movie I did not need to watch. I am aware of the copious amounts of time I spend on social media and a secret part of me guiltily will bask in ‘ignorance is bliss’ rays. I am an avid ‘accept cookies’ clicker, secretly find it pleasing that advertisements are tailored to me so I don’t have to watch an ad meant for a 70-year-olds with back problems, and my ‘data’ is too abstract for me to care about it being sold.  

The realities of social media and its influence are, however, much bigger than the individual and this is what The Social Dilemma is good for. The driving force of the movie is Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google and now an advocate for tech-companies claiming responsibility. Harris, claims the ‘dilemma’ of social media is its ability to offer utopia and dystopia simultaneously; its ability to connect the world like never before and make life easier, clashes with the supposed corrosion of democracy and the mental health crisis that followed its creation.

The Social Dilemma highlights its themes through a cringe-worthy dramatization of how social media impacts one family, in a similar fashion to those low-budget crime shows that somehow always are on TV. To some, this parallel story, that runs alongside the interviews of Silicon Valley veterans, is distracting and detrimental to the credibility of the movie. Contrarily, this method of dramatizing might just be the most efficient way of getting the point across, as we as a society revels in drama – just look at Tiger King’s ratings.

According to Justin Rosenstein, the Facebook ‘like’ button’s co-creator, they never intended the harmful effects of social media and he desolately details how his original goal had been to spread positivity. Since day one of Facebook’s existence, our emotional and psychological vulnerabilities have been studied by complex algorithms then exploited for profit in numerous ways. Consequently, regretful declarations like Rosenstein’s fall short on many viewers. The comparison to having created a monster like Frankenstein, equally feels fake, as tech-companies are capable of regulatory measures, however, with profit continuing to be the driving force of our society, it’s unlikely to occur without legislative intervention. 

The Social Dilemma provides an insight into the behind-the-scenes of the tech-industry and the viewer is left with a sinking feeling and desire to delete all social media apps. For us students, this feeling is quickly followed by the realisation that to delete an app like Facebook would mean communication with friends would be difficult and we would be isolated in terms of social events and even employment options. We are past the point of no return and deleting an app that is used regularly is not sustainable. What you could do, however, is set a time limit on certain apps that you perhaps spend too much time on, delete them if it’s possible to socially function without them, and use social media in a more informed way than previously. 

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