Documentary “The Social Dilemma” points out that we are all lab rats to big tech companies and that should scare you.
The film, directed by Jeff Orlowski, features a unique blend of documentary interviews and loose dramatization that outlines the unique issues presented by social media and surveillance capitalism in the modern era. It features former Google design ethicist and co-founder of the Center for the Humane Technology Tristan Harris, co-creator of the Facebook like button Justin Rosenstein, Harvard Business School professor emeritus Shoshana Zuboff, former Pinterest president Tim Kindall, as well as researchers Renee DiResta, Anna Lembke, and Jaron Lanier. The dramatized portion features a family directly affected by the ill effects of social media in relation to mental health and extremist politics.
The first thing that should be noted is the sheer magnitude of the topic. One subject in the documentary points out that big tech companies are not like typical corporations. Most corporations are selling a product to consumers, but technology companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, are not selling products; they are selling consumers to advertisers. Their entire business models revolve around collecting data on what consumers look at, for how long, and what they move to afterwards, and recommending content to keep them looking at the screen for longer and longer. Most people aren’t even aware that this happens. This is something that means the different between use and exploitation.
The documentary also uses idea of a tool to talk about the development of these technologies. Harris points out that tools are typically things that have been invented and wait for use. He points that a lot of facets of social media platforms do not operate this way. Social media platforms do wait for a user to pick them up and use them but there’s a lot of digital bombardment. These platforms send you information about their platforms even if you don’t want it. Our world is incredibly interconnected, and platforms often use the data you put in on one platform to inform the content on another.
“The Social Dilemma” does acknowledge its place as a mostly “doom and gloom” position, but they also point out some of the positive elements of social media platforms and internet tools. The creators of these platforms never intended for the algorithms written to so disastrously use user data this way. Rosenstein even points out that when the Facebook like button was invented, their mission was to “spread love and connection in the world,” not affect the mental state of teenagers who don’t get enough likes on their posts. They make sure to say that the platforms and internet sites are tools just like anything else but the ways they have gone unchecked is the issue. Unlike most other forms of communicative platforms such as radio, TV, and newspapers, these platforms have virtually no regulations and that is where the problem lies.
“The Social Dilemma” does a fantastic job of being very informative about a topic that we all know is an issue, but few know exactly how to fix. “The Social Dilemma” receives an A-plus rating.