The Social or Student Dilemma?

Statesman staffer reviews The Social Dilemma docudrama.

Photo Courtesy Of: Netflix

Photo Courtesy Of: Netflix

When I first heard about The Social Dilemma, I was afraid. Afraid that it would tell me that I needed to stop my social media consumption immediately: afraid that the dangers my phone presented were looming over me in a dark cloud. It wasn’t until I actually watched the documentary that I realized hearing my fears get confirmed by the actual creators of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and many other social media platforms was extremely eye-opening. 

This docudrama by Jeff Orlowski features testimonials of many developers and executives who were instrumental in the creation of the many apps that we are surrounded by today. These testimonials give viewers a peek into how social media brings out the worst in humanity, ultimately leading to chaos. Depression, social media addiction and even the spread of propaganda or controversies that cripple millions of teenagers as well as adults are revealed to be all at the hands of greedy capitalists who program their apps to maintain user engagement and encourage addictive behaviors. It’s no mystery why I deleted Snapchat and Messenger immediately after watching this documentary; I didn’t want to let social media take control of my life or let data miners steal all my information.

Oftentimes, we tend to ignore the effects of social media. Waving them off, and just saying ‘It’s in our lives no matter what, so how do we avoid it?’ Well, it’s less about avoiding and more about being careful and aware of the side effects. Choosing to ignore the consequences is more dangerous because you’re entirely unaware of what it’s doing to you. 

“What I want people to know is that everything they’re doing online is being watched, is being tracked, is being measured,” said Jeff Seibert, co-founder of Crashlytics, which was acquired by Twitter. “Every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded. Exactly what image you stop and look at, for how long you look at it. Oh, yeah, seriously, for how long you look at it.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard our parents and members of older generations telling us to get off our phones, and even now, a common saying is ‘the FBI is watching you.’ However, the real threat is actually these companies recording our social footprints so meticulously that there’s probably no secret of ours that they don’t know. Now that’s scary. 

The testimonies did try and put a positive spin on social media, though, saying that there is a chance to make the situation better. The negative effects cannot be reversed entirely, but some of the testimonials encouraged more regulations on Big Tech. Tristan Harris, a design ethicist at Google, said, “I think we need to accept that it’s okay for companies to be focused on making money. What’s not okay is when there’s no regulation, no rules and no competition, and the companies are acting as sort of de facto governments. And then they’re saying, ‘Well, we can regulate ourselves.’ I mean, that’s just a lie. That’s just ridiculous.” 

Regulations or not, and given the fact that we can’t predict what even the Biden administration will do with Big Tech, we should still control our own social media consumption.

We also have control over what we choose to listen to. And after watching this documentary, I choose to “Open up [my] eyes, don’t believe the lies!” as the documentary said. 

Though this documentary did seem terrifying at first, it left me thanking the gods that I never downloaded TikTok and left me feeling cautious about my future social media use. In quarantine, it can be incredibly easy to slip into the lure of apps like TikTok and find yourself using it day and night because we don’t really have anything else going on, but this type of behavior is what feeds data miners and capitalists. Instead, now, I keep an eye on my screen time, try to put my phone away during passing periods and focus more on myself instead of scrolling through Instagram watching Reels or looking at others’ pictures.

Orlowski was extremely successful in creating a call to action for his viewers— warning them to be wary and not to be ignorant about social media’s risks. If you’re looking for a Friday night movie, The Social Dilemma should definitely be on your list somewhere.