Article By: Dalia Pelayo-Mark
The Social Dilemma, a documentary directed by Jeff Orlowski, was released to Netflix halfway through 2020. Conscientious defectors from Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and more, explain that the perniciousness of social networking platforms is all a feature, not a bug. They claim that by strategically manipulating human behavior they’re able to profit through codes with careful precision. These behaviors include infinite scrolling and push notifications to keep users engaged at all times. Personalized recommendations use data to predict and influence our actions, turning users into easy prey for advertisers and propagandists.
“Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people,” says Tristan Harris, a former designer at Google. Anna Lembke then goes on to say that these companies exploit the brain’s evolutionary need for interpersonal connection, expertising in addiction through Stanford University. Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, adds on by explaining that Russia didn’t hack Facebook; it simply used the platform right in front of them.
The Social Dilemma also includes interviews with fictional scenes of a suburban family suffering the consequences of the world’s social-media addiction. There are silent dinners, a pubescent daughter with vanity obsessions and a teenage son who’s radicalized by YouTube recommendations promoting biased ideology. Despite interviewees in the film’s criticisms, they’re not all pessimistic; many suggest that with the right changes, we can salvage the good of social media without the bad.
Nevertheless, “The Social Dilemma” is remarkably effective in alarming the world about the unspoken inclusion of data integration and manipulative technology into our everyday social lives. Orlowski’s documentary is itself not spared by the phenomenon it scrutinizes. The movie is now available on Netflix, where it’ll become another pawn in the service’s data-based game board.