Jeff Orlowski (The Social Dilemma): interview with a documentary panel


“The Social Dilemma” presents the harmful impact of social media on society, and for the director Jeff Orlowski, he hadn’t always seen him like that. As a “passionate and super intensive user” Orlowski “used it all the time”. “I describe myself as addicted and it has changed until today where I do not touch it at all”, he shares during the Meet the Experts: Documentary panel of Gold Derby (look above). ” I do not use. I didn’t delete the accounts because they still provide access to people and connectivity, but as I learned during this project, they don’t really provide connection. It’s a false sense of connection. But it has been a huge change for me personally to remove social media from my daily life. “

Orlowski began re-examining his relationship with social media in 2017 when some of his friends at Stanford who had gotten into tech started sharing a “very different perspective” on the technology used by companies such as Facebook, Twitter. , Instagram and Google. “I hadn’t heard anyone criticize some of Silicon Valley’s fundamental design practices and technology,” he says. “One of our subjects described it as a ‘cultural climate change that invisibly shapes and changes the way billions of people see and understand the world.’

The Netflix movie dissects the algorithms these companies use to maintain user engagement on their respective platforms and shows how misinformation and conspiracy theories spread rapidly. To illustrate these invisible practices at work, Orlowski incorporated a fictional script into the documentary that follows a family whose teens can’t stay off their phones, resulting in one of them becoming radicalized.

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“I really learned in this process what is going on and what is hidden on the other side of your phone. Why do you see the content you see? Why and when do you receive notifications? All of these things are designed and optimized by algorithms that aim to bone you in particular, ”says Orlowski. “As we learned that, we started to come up with these analogies trying to understand how they work and trying to find ways to communicate that to the public. So we were able to take these concepts and basically anthropomorphize and bring to life these algorithms and the intent of different algorithms that are not necessarily aligned with your intention, goals, or objectives.

The filmmaker also typed Vincent Kartheiser to play three AI in one of the teenager’s phones to further help viewers understand how the algorithms work. “I was really excited for our opportunity to really push and demonstrate, ‘Look, these aren’t humans. We use an actor to bring concepts to life. We really try to portray [that] algorithms have no morality. There is no moral framework, ”he continues. “If an algorithm is debating to show you a really healthy food that you should consider eating or some hysterical and outrageous news content that you are going to click and engage with, the algorithm is going to find out what will work for you, what will work for you? which may be different for someone else. The algorithm is not determinative, is it true, is it correct, is it good information for you or for the company. It just shows you anything that might interest you at that particular time. “

Orlowski, however, is hopeful for the future and “more optimistic than ever” about the one day regulation of social media. “We are seeing a massive movement in the United States and Europe to try to move towards regulation – a bipartisan interest in regulating large social and tech industries,” he said. “I think the conversations of just a few years ago compared to the Senate hearings in March a few weeks ago, there is a completely different tone from the Congress and the Senate of the United States regarding the accountability of technology companies. , critiques of the business model, informed knowledge of impacts on youth and mental health.

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