Netflix show everyone is talking about
In the past 15 years social media platforms have become a hugely influential force in our lives.
People have been alternatively wowed by the connected world social media creates and scared by just how much data it collects and the impact it has on our lives.
Now a new Netflix documentary/drama, The Social Dilemma, has gone inside the workings of the platforms that have such a huge impact on our daily lives and it has left many shocked.
The film argues tech and social media platforms have been deliberately designed to addict us and profit off our attention and digs into the algorithms used to drive the content we see.
It quotes statistician Edward Tufte who says "there are only two industries that refer to their customers as 'users': illegal drugs and software" and warns that "if you're not paying for the product, then you're the product".
It argues its our attention that is being sold to advertisers, and this is the main product not the services social media platforms build and deliver.
The film also includes a fictitious case study of a typical American family, where the two younger children are addicted to their phones and social media while their older sister tries to bring them back to the real world.
The teenage boy of the family becomes addicted to "extreme centrist" content fed to him by an algorithm and when he tries to attend a political rally, his sister is arrested trying to save him from violent protesters.
At first glance The Social Dilemma is enough to put you off social media and your smartphone for good, and that was the immediate reaction of many.
There was a chilling moment in the doc where the guy who ran monetisation for FB was asked what he worried about most as the consequence of what they have done.— Emma Kennedy (@EmmaKennedy) September 25, 2020
“Civil war” he said. And he meant it.
The Social Dilemma has made me want to throw my phone in the bin 🤯— Robyn (@robynkinneavy) September 23, 2020
Everyone using social media must watch the documentary 'The social dilemma' on Netflix. It's about what the social media is doing to our psychology & society. Promoting addiction, fake news, polarisation, depression. Answers many Qs about why civilization is rapidly degenerating— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) September 22, 2020
Just watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, and it paints a pretty scary picture of where we’re heading. Must-see. 👀👀👀— S.E. Cupp (@secupp) September 25, 2020
Last night as a family we watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix.— RS Archer (@archer_rs) September 24, 2020
Deeply disturbing and enlightening. When it finished my daughter closed her Facebook and Instgram accounts plus she called all her friends and told them to watch the film.
I urge everyone to watch it.
social media will be the downfall of human happiness...— Sam (@SamGolbach) September 22, 2020
if you don’t believe me, watch the social dilemma
i’m am HORRIFIED.
The scariest part of the Social Dilemma is that it’s not an episode of black mirror...it’s our current reality.— D-Rex 🦖 (@drex_jurassic) September 22, 2020
My mum: you’re depressed because of your phone— mrinali (@kelisztomania) September 21, 2020
Me: no that’s fake
The social dilemma: you’re depressed because of your phone
Me: oh my god I’m depressed because of my phone
While some have been shocked by the documentary's revelations, others have viewed it as a vindication of their long issued warnings.
Former Google design ethicist and now president of the Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris is a key figure throughout the film, along with Harvard professor and "surveillance capitalism" expert Shoshana Zuboff and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier among others.
Social media accounts for the Mozilla non-profit that makes the Firefox web browser and is focused on ensuring "the internet remains a public resource that is open and accessible to all" said the documentary brought up "serious and valid concerns about the impact of social media" to a broad audience, but said there were "glaring omissions".
Deputy director of digital rights advocacy group Fight For The Future, Evan Greer, said it overplayed the addictiveness of social media and underplayed its real-world value.
One of my problems with "The Social Dilemma" is that it makes the same mistake a lot of tech observers are making: it treats social media as if its cigarettes -- something that's addictive and bad with no value at all. The Internet is more like sex, drugs and rock & roll (thread)— Evan Greer (@evan_greer) September 16, 2020
"The problem with ignoring this is that it leads us toward 'solutions' to Big Tech that do more harm than good," Ms Greer added.
"Social media has given more people a voice in our democracy than ever before in history.
"None of this is to say that there aren't huge problems with Big Tech social media companies like Facebook and Google … In fact, their business models are fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and democracy, but no one wants to address the business model."
She said banning things like microtargeted advertising and opaque algorithms that amplify posts based on engagement (Facebook's so-called "rage machine") would be more effective than focusing on individual choice over whether you use social media, or pressuring the companies to change.
US chess champion and comparative literature scholar Jennifer Shahade said the film was "overly negative, ageist and outrageously lacking in nuance, diversity or solutions".
(major) Redeeming feature: may make your life better if you haven’t read or watched much criticism of social media before.— Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) September 26, 2020
New media theorist and professor at Canada's Simon Fraser University, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, said despite its flaws the movie does raise the question of just what to do next.
The Social Dilemma makes some questionable moves and elides crucial issues of discrimination--but it also raises the crucial question: what to do? We should not be tracked, discriminated against, or experimented on. Let us work together to build a better world.— wendy hui kyong chun (@whkchun) September 27, 2020
The film has been received positively by reviewers with an 86 per cent approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and is now available to stream on Netflix.
Originally published as Netflix show everyone is talking about