Interview with the director of the documentary “The Social Dilemma” Jeff Orlowski


Even though the current president doesn’t arm Twitter in the same way his predecessor did, Jeff Orlowski wants people to know that social media is polarizing the country even more. “Each of us has a different Twitter or a different Facebook, which is personalized and tailored to my experience just to keep me on the platform,” Orlowski told Gold Derby on our Meet the Experts: Documentary and Nonfiction panel. (watch the exclusive video interview above). Seeing how social media has further isolated us as a society and helps support things like COVID disinformation and the plots that culminated in the riot on Capitol Hill on January 6 has left Orlowski with a pretty harsh take on things. “I fundamentally believe that this technology is incompatible with a healthy and functioning democracy.”

Orlowski’s film, “The Social Dilemma,” which is currently airing on Netflix, examines how social media companies rely on people’s addiction to consuming content through their platforms. The film further shows how this business model has had devastating effects on society as well as on people’s mental health. The documentary won seven Emmy nominations this year, including one for Best Documentary or Non-Fiction Special and two for Orlowski as screenwriter and director of the film.

SEE Watch our interviews with over 150 of this year’s Emmy nominees

One of the film’s most striking choices shows a dramatization of the negative impact of social media addiction on an American family. The choice came a year after production of the film began after many interviews with people who have worked in the tech world. “All the while we’ve been really trying to figure out how this technology actually works. Like, what are machine algorithms, what are they doing to society, to us as individuals? Orlowski felt that anthropomorphizing the technology, and in particular the algorithm, was important in explaining its damage. “You could bring algorithms to life, you could see how it was applied to a family, and hopefully put the audience in that same perspective.”

While the drama sections don’t use recognizable actors, there is one exception to this and that was the cast of Vincent Kartheiser, of “Mad Men”, like the physical manifestations of algorithms. It’s a pretty ironic role for Kartheiser. “It was just interesting because Vincent didn’t use social media at all. He was like very against social media and he really spoke to the material. Orlowski was looking for someone who could play three different roles and bring distinct personalities to each part of the algorithm. “We brought to life three different types of algorithms based on the outline of what companies optimize for. So very often they optimize for engagement, they optimize for growth, and they optimize for ad revenue.

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