The social dilemma – Palatinate

By Frankie Docker

We all know we spend too much time on social media. I’m often swept away by this powerful, seemingly endless stream of content dumped into some of the weirdest corners of the internet. Recently, I stayed at a popular destination, Handforth Parish Council, where, hidden behind my screen, I watched a meeting descend into chaos. When it’s just a few videos and a quick check of your accounts, it doesn’t seem that much of a problem. However, with an entire generation reporting they are more depressed than ever, with suicide rates rising exponentially, all attributable to the advent of social media, it is starting to get worrying. Very disturbing.

This is precisely what the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” aims to answer. It features a host of Silicon Valley’s top innovators, including former Twitter executive Jeff Seibert, ex-Pinterest president Tim Kendall, and ex-Facebook president Sean Parker. Through their eyes, we see what started as a collection of harmless platforms grow into the ubiquitous global entity it is today. Slightly awkwardly, they stare into the camera aperture, each weighed down by the weight of guilt they must share for their contribution to its creation. “It was supposed to spread positivity,” says Justin Rosenstein, founder of the “Like” button. There is a note of tragic pathos that underlines the words of these great minds; indeed, sometimes it turns into a self-flagellation session where they ruminate and curse themselves over situations they could never control and circumstances they could never foresee.

Methods like uninstalling apps or following opinions contrary to our own are about as helpful as a therapist saying “don’t use drugs” to a child with a family history of addiction.

Launched at Sundance, the documentary later moved to Netflix, where it received favorable attention from critics and the general public. However, the medium through which it is transmitted is problematic; the same messages it delivers about social media addiction and manipulation could easily be said about Netflix’s streaming service, the service that urges viewers to watch the next episode, teases them with automatic trailers, deletes ratings, decides how well their interests match the proposed shows. It’s like a McDonald’s ad warning of the ill effects of fast food, ironic and seemingly oblivious or denying guilt. Nonetheless, credit should be given to the program for its otherwise transparent nature.

However, his message is sometimes too clear. Alongside the interviews, a fictional narrative provides interludes to the show, which recaps the previous points about social media by illustrating how it might apply in a real-life situation. While that may have helped broaden the demographic to appeal to younger audiences, to me they seem tautological. The characters are predictable, bland and boring, as is the personification of the phone’s interior, which ends up looking like Black Mirror’s version. Upside downonly less intelligent and slightly condescending.

Thus, whether this is an appropriate deterrent for people to leave social media is debatable. Many of the show’s critics have said they’ve done so since watching it, however, personally, it didn’t seem to provide enough incentive to take action. From the trailer, he describes his intention to reveal the secrets of big tech companies. The secrets it reveals though, the algorithm’s detailed knowledge of our behavior, how our data is sold, aren’t exactly underground business. We are very aware of this, whether from politicians or from our personal experiences, for example, noticing the surprising accuracy of advertisements in our feed, on topics we were talking about a few moments ago. Indeed, the information it provides is not new, nor, unfortunately, their solutions. Methods such as uninstalling apps or following opinions contrary to our own are about as helpful as a therapist saying “don’t use drugs” to a child with a family history of addiction. The problems we encounter are deep and psychological, intertwined in our social structure, our value system.

The documentary delivers on its promise by providing insight into the mechanics behind Silicon Valley tech lawsuits, though its effectiveness is compromised by the lack of depth associated with it. Maybe it’s the cynicism in me that makes the future feel bleak or the general doomsday mantra throughout the program. It may just be the fact that we are already aware of these issues and continue to use them (myself included). All of these valid reasons that should deter us from social media are like the notifications that pop up on our phones, the notifications that we scan and disappear into this digital abyss. It is only when they carry a tangible and personal threat that we decide to click on them. Well, if it’s not already too late.

Picture: Pixelkult from Pixabay