The new Netflix documentary The social dilemma is – ironically – to capture a lot of traction on social media. While we need to have conversations about the long-term effects on society of apps like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – perhaps it’s best that we have these conversations analogously. The film sheds light on the sneaky and manipulative ways in which these social media sites and apps keep us dependent – and divided. What does the haunted doc The social dilemma really reveal?
‘The Social Dilemma’, the documentary you can watch on Netflix, shares a scary version of the online experience
The social dilemma is a strong call for action, mainly aimed at Silicon Valley. Among interviews with several former executives of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter and others, the disgruntled former employees reveal what is really going on behind the scenes at these giant technology companies.
For example, we do not pay for these social media apps. While it is undoubtedly practical what does it really mean?
“Advertisers are the customers,” argues Aza Raskin, the inventor of “Infinite Roll” and co-founder of the Center for Human Technology in The social dilemma. “We are the thing that sells.” The data we collect using the app is sold to other companies. The companies themselves also use this data to make us stay hooked on the app longer.
Former technology leaders review the ways in which they try to keep social media users addicted
As these former technical leaders admit in The social dilemma, it is (or was, in this case) basically their goal to make you addicted.
Jeff Seibert, former director of Twitter, says these companies not only track what image you look at, but “how long you look at it.” Tristan Harris, a former designer at Google and co-founder of a company called the Center for Humane Technology, says this means the AI behind the app knows what you like and what kind of images and videos will keep you engaged on the platform.
The algorithm can “predict what kind of emotions tend to trigger you” – the best way to keep you scrolling or writing.
“We will … find out how we can manipulate you as quickly as possible” – Chamath Palihapitiya, the former VP of growth at Facebook said in an interview, “and then give you that dopamine hit back.” It essentially uses the human brain against itself.
“… you are exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” added Sean Parker, Facebook’s former president.
‘The Social Dilemma’ claims that depression and anxiety in teenagers increase as a result of apps such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitter
As Harris points out in The social dilemma, humans evolved as a species to be social, and to care about what our “tribe” thinks – but we did not evolve to take “10,000” different opinions from around the world. That’s often what we get on apps.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist from NYU’s Stern School of Business, notes the tangible, devastating effects of all these meaningful trolls.
Depression and anxiety, for example, are both way up among American teens. Self-harm among teenage girls also increased massively around 2011 – around the time when social media became widespread on mobile phones.
“We see the same pattern of suicide,” he continued.
Gen Z is the first generation to have social media on their phones in the impressive middle school age. What does this mean for the generation?
“They are much less comfortable taking risks,” Haidt argued, referring to the lower number of teenagers who go on dates and / or get their driver’s licenses.
The Netflix documentary also contains powerful quotes about our political divide
The social dilemma also points to a huge issue on social media these days: fake news. Harris quoted the haunted state that fake news travels 6 times faster on Twitter than real news.
This means that apps on social media have no incentive to tell the truth – or to show users something outside their political bubble.
Thus, they have created and solidified two separate pages that do not “trust each other” or even want to hear another page. It also leaves countries vulnerable to fake news attacks.
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“The Russians did not hack Facebook. … they used the tools that Facebook created for legitimate advertisers and legitimate users, and they used it for a malicious purpose, ”said Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook in the Netflix documentary.
Facebook has already been in the headlines for its influence in the US presidential election in 2016 – but the power they have over smaller countries like Myanmar has also been devastating.
“It’s like remote control war,” Harris added. “One country can manipulate another without actually invading its physical boundaries.”
Tim Kendall, a former leader at both Facebook and Pinterest, cited the thing he is most concerned about in the “shortest time horizon” like civil war.
So if you wanted to sleep tonight, we’re … so sorry.