The new Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma is — ironically — picking up a lot of traction on social media. While we need to be having conversations about the long-term effects on society of apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — maybe it’s best we have those conversations in analog. The movie sheds light on the sneaky and manipulative ways these social media websites and apps keep us addicted — and divided. What does the haunting doc The Social Dilemma really reveal?
‘The Social Dilemma’, the documentary you can watch on Netflix, shares a harrowing version of the online experience
The Social Dilemma is a powerful call-to-action, directed mainly at Silicon Valley. Among interviews with multiple former executives of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and others, the disgruntled ex-employees reveal what’s really going on behind the scenes at these giant tech companies.
For example, we don’t pay for these social media apps. While that’s no doubt convenient, what does that really mean?
“Advertisers are the customers,” Aza Raskin, the inventor of “infinite scroll” and co-founder of the Center for Human Technology argues in The Social Dilemma. “We’re the thing being sold.” The data we rack up by using the app gets sold to other companies. The companies themselves also use this data to get us to stay hooked on the app longer.
Former tech executives review the ways they try to keep social media users addicted
As these former tech executives admit in The Social Dilemma, it is (or was, in this case) basically their goal to make you addicted.
Jeff Seibert, a former exec at Twitter, says that these companies track not only what image you look at but “for how long you look at it.” Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google and the co-founder of a company called 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 kinds of emotions tend to trigger you” — the best way to keep you scrolling, or typing.
“We want to … figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible” — Chamath Palihapitiya, the former VP of Growth at Facebook said an interview, “and then give you back that dopamine hit.” It’s using the human brain against itself, essentially.
“… you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology, ” Sean Parker, Facebook’s former President, added.
‘The Social Dilemma’ argues that depression and anxiety in teens is increasing as a result of apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter
As Harris points out in The Social Dilemma, humans evolved as a species to be social, and to care what our “tribe” thinks — but we did not evolve to take in “10,000” different opinions from all over the world. That’s often what we get on the apps.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist from NYU’s Stern School of Business, notes the tangible, devastating effects of all these opinionated trolls.
Depression and anxiety are both way up among American teens, for example. Self-harm in teenage girls also massively increased around 2011 — around when social media became prevalent on cell phones.
“We see the same pattern with suicide,” he continued.
Gen Z is the first generation to have social media on their phones at the impressionable middle-school age. What does that mean for the generation?
“They’re much less comfortable taking risks,” Haidt argued, citing the lower numbers of teens who go on dates and/or get their driver’s license.
The Netflix documentary also includes powerful quotes about our the political divide
The Social Dilemma also points to a huge issue on social media these days: fake news. Harris cited the haunting stat that fake news travels 6 times faster on Twitter than real news.
This means that social media apps have no incentive to tell the truth — or to show users anything outside of their political bubble.
Thus, they have created and solidified two separate sides who didn’t “trust each other” or even want to hear another side. It also leaves countries vulnerable to fake news attacks.
“The Russians didn’t hack Facebook. … they used the tools that Facebook created for legitimate advertisers and legitimate users and they applied it to a nefarious purpose,” Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook said in the Netflix documentary.
Facebook has already been in the headlines for its influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election — but the power they have over smaller countries like Myanmar has been devastating as well.
“It’s like remote-control warfare,” Harris added. “One country can manipulate another one without actually invading its physical borders.”
Tim Kendall, a former executive at both Facebook and Pinterest, cited the thing he’s most worried about in the “shortest time horizon” as civil war.
So, in case you wanted to sleep tonight, we’re … so sorry.