“The Social Dilemma”: Why technology and social media are tearing us apart

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Alivia Baker

Be aware of and discover what is tracking, manipulating and dividing us as a society–social media–in writer Sam Noah’s review on the new Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’.

Sam Noah, Writer

From films such as Terminator, The Matrix and Blade Runner, the negative portrayal of technology and artificial intelligence (A.I.) in fictional films is nothing new. However, the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma is not a futuristic and dystopian story, it is a terrifying warning to the dangers of technology right now.

In 94 minutes, The Social Dilemma intertwines interviews from former silicon valley employees, authors and other internet experts with a narrative surrounding a family and their children’s addiction to social media.

It seamlessly informs viewers of many different issues within the technological world, specifically the power of company algorithms, the extent to which all social media users are tracked and the real-life consequences that stem from the overconsumption of technology. 

The film begins with eerie comments from some of the earliest developers of big tech companies and services, voicing concern about what their industry has turned into. Many of them share that they quit their jobs for ethical reasons. 

They focus on the idea that the only real goal of social media companies is to sell their users. Co-founder of The Center For Humane Technology says, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” 

Jaron Lanier, the founding father of virtual technology and author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, states, “That’s the only thing there is for them to make money from. Changing what you do, how you think, who you are.” 

Jonathan Haidt, author and social psychologist at New York University, brings up the disturbing statistics that relate social media use to increasing numbers in suicide, depression and self-harm in teenagers.

To help viewers understand the computer behind the screen, the filmmakers utilize three men that perfectly personifies A.I. algorithms. The three are in control of a teenage boy’s social media feed, with one controlling advertisements, one controlling engagement and one controlling growth. 

The family narrative then takes a new direction, in which the son becomes swallowed up by information pushed to him about a political group called the “Extreme Center”. This storyline shows the true power social media has in influencing political views and dividing a country.

The simple fact of the matter is social media algorithms are designed to make money, not do the right thing. Fake news spreads six times faster than true news on the internet. This can have real-life consequences other than technology addiction. 

Platforms that have billions and billions of users and that spread misinformation like wildfire are the perfect tools for people with malicious intent to spread their ideals. Facebook campaigns have contributed to horrible events such as the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

We as a species are fighting an unfair battle. We are facing supercomputers that have evolved exponentially in the last few decades, while we have not evolved at all. The algorithms know everything about us, we know nothing about them.

Lanier believes that if a change is not made to regulate these tech companies in the next 20 years, the human race will not survive. Democracy will perish, civil wars will ensue, and climate change will be delegitimized until it’s too late.

This threat is real, and The Social Dilemma is a rivetingly entertaining and yet informative film that brings awareness to this issue. I believe everyone, especially teens, should watch this documentary to have a better understanding of the power technology truly possesses. 

What do you think?