The new, must-see documentary on Netflix, The Social Dilemma, brings light to one of the most critical issues in our society right now; the dangers of social networking and its concerning impact on humans. It features interviews with many key figures in the tech industry such as former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, Facebook like button co-creator Justin Rosenstein, and former Pinterest president Tim Kendall. Interestingly enough, in their interviews, these tech experts sound the alarm on their own creations. They describe just how big tech companies manipulate human psychology to control how we think and what we do. The terrifying part of this is that they can do this without us even knowing. If that doesn’t disturb you, I don’t know what will.
So, what exactly is happening? These social media companies are competing with everything else for your attention. They’re asking you, “Just how much time can we get you to spend on the screen? How much of your life can you give to us?”, every single time they seduce you with notifications, features, and recommendations.
Now you may be wondering, what if you want to keep scrolling, what if you want those recommendations on your feed? Then what could possibly be the problem? The documentary tells us this: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. These “free” apps are not actually free and are paid for by the advertisers in exchange for showing their products or content to us. We could say that we are the products being sold and the advertisers are the customers. Or more specifically, the documentary tells us “it’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception” that is the product. Social media is selling opportunities to influence what people think about something even if that influence is minuscule. Our social media is changing what we do and what we think with each tiny, slight, unnoticeable nudge. Social media is changing who we are and it’s doing it without asking us.
All your actions made online are monitored and with that information, the algorithm uses it to prepare the next wave of content that will keep you stuck to your screen. Your feed will continue to be filled with content that will be emotionally triggering and interesting to you, pulling you into a never-ending rabbit hole of one-sided information. We accept the reality that is in front of our faces and over time you believe that everyone agrees with you because that’s all you see on your feed. On a bigger scale, we now have people all operating on a different set of “truths” and this divides people into two sides that can’t or don’t want to hear each other anymore. And now that is definitely an issue.
The documentary also highlights the impact of social media on Gen Z, the kids born after 1996, and their mental health. Gen Z are the first generation that got on social media in middle school. We’re talking about a whole generation that’s more anxious, fragile and depressed than ever. According to the documentary, the number of young girls hospitalized due to self-harm has tripled and suicide rates have doubled since social media has emerged. Not only is social media dividing the global population as never before, it’s also altering and killing children and tech companies are doing nothing to cease this.
The Social Dilemma is a giant wake-up call that exposes and brings awareness to a crucial topic. By being aware of this problem that surrounds us wherever we go, we can start with small changes in ourselves. Simply turning your notifications off for social media is already one step closer to you being your own person. Hopefully and possibly, The Social Dilemma will encourage many to work towards a more independent, happy life. This documentary is an absolute must-watch for teens, parents and all technology users.