Review of “The Social Dilemma”

By Emily Garcia

“The Social Dilemma,” a Netflix documentary by American filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, uncovers all of the secrets and mysteries behind social media. It explains how our minds work and uncovers the ways in which the internet and social media have learned to twist them. 

In this documentary, creators and co-founders of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat disclosed the truth behind the secrecy of their companies in interviews. It would seem that algorithms that had been created for people to interact with one another have been exploited for financial gain. The documentary also discusses addiction to social media as well as its impact on mental health and its role in politics and conspiracy theories. 

The documentary argues that social media companies build algorithms that predict every action we take in order to keep us swiping. The time, location, and data is all being monitored to create a “clone” of ourselves which gets even more specific each time we use the internet. They know when we feel lonely or happy, whether we’re an introvert or extrovert, all just to make better predictions about what we’re going to do next. 

“Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures,” Shoshana Zuboff, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School says in “The Social Dilemma.”

Orlowksi uncovered that these industries use psychology to keep us hooked by creating an addiction and manipulation-based environment.  Chamath Palihapitiya, an ex-Facebook executive explains in the documentary that every time we check our phones, we release dopamine which makes us happy. It is a design technique to keep us guessing subconsciously what is going to come next. This is why we check our phones even if there is nothing there. In other words, each user becomes consumed by their own isolated “social media bubble.” They become increasingly enticed by this personal “community” that has been created for them, and turn to it for happiness and stimulation.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary, especially for younger generations. In that world anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is by a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people so they have created an entire global generation who were raised in the context with the very meaning of communication and the very meaning of culture is manipulation,” Jaron Lanier, the author of “10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” explained in the documentary.

The documentary does a great job of illustrating just how scary it is that all of this is happening without our knowledge. We brush it off because we are so addicted to our devices. It all comes down to what emotions tend to trigger our minds and they are controlling every aspect of us. 

Orlowski takes all his research and a huge concept, considering he is looking at financial, political, and mental health issues, and scales it down to be understandable by the average audience. Orlowski interviews the people who helped create social media in short interviews that keep the audience engaged.

What makes this documentary different, however, is the fictional anecdotes spread between the interviews. He illustrates suburban families not talking to each other at dinner, kids with self-image issues, etc. These fictional additions might take away from the credibility of the documentary, making it more of a docudrama, but the facts are still very telling.

Orlowski takes what we already know about the dangers of social media and points to further dangers of data mining and manipulation as the causes behind addiction and mental health issues.

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