Today i’m going to be reviewing the social dilemma. It’s safe to say this documentary is a must-see for anyone with a smartphone and social media accounts. So hold your conspiracy theories and hear me out.
The Social Dilemma Review and My Opinion
The social dilemma explains how social media works as a business model. Collecting data and directly affecting the way we behave. Now before i lose some of you whose attention span has already reached its limits, let me give you the TLDR version of this documentary or i suppose the TLDW.
Here are the five most important points from the documentary.
1. If you are not paying for a product you are the product.
Free things get paid for by advertisers who are paying to ensure that their product or service gets seen by the most amount of people possible.
2. Your online experience is not tailored to you.
It is tailored to make money by farming your attention and keeping you on the app or website. This can lead to the propagation of click bait content.
3. Fake news spreads six times quicker than the truth.
This means that algorithms are more likely to show you fake news in order to get those all-important clicks for clients. This is why conspiracy theory content is a gold mine.
4. Your perception of reality is different from everyone else’s. To quote the Truman show as the documentary does, we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. Online we are presented with information that reflects our unique data. This can differ immensely from other peoples and can skew our perception of the truth.
5. Every click contributes to real social political and environmental changes or events.
The suicide and self-harm rates of pre-teens and teens has increased dramatically with generation zed, who curate their lives around a perceived and unattainable version of perfection that is spread by social media and governed by an incessant need to get likes.
Violent protests, riots, hate crimes, and even mass genocide have all been enabled through the ability to spread information quickly by negatively utilizing the algorithms that these apps and websites use. These points may sound dramatic and hyperbolic and may make you want to click away. But that is understandable. Much like the climate change crisis. It is difficult to feel the weight of the social media crisis for most people because you can’t feel an imminent threat on a personal level.
How does recycling my plastic bags mean the ice caps won’t melt? How does turning off my facebook notifications reduce self-harm rates? The calls in effect do not seem linked but they are and that is what makes this documentary so uncomfortably moving. The social dilemma’s main purpose is to make us aware of how and why we are being guided to consume specific content.
The information makes a lot of sense especially coming from these interviewees. Usually you’d only get interviews with doctors and psychologists and of course they are reliable sources of information. But their experience can often feel distant from the problem itself.
Understanding the technology behind it all makes for a much better argument. It was really interesting to hear from the people whose jobs it is to direct and keep our attention and make the most money for the businesses they work for. They are just doing their jobs and doing them well. I agree with the conclusion that they came to that the focus should be on passing laws to tax or limit the accessibility to data. This will help reduce the negative impact of the things that they have created.
They give the example of how many ways in which tv is regulated while social media goes almost entirely unchecked. A step in the right direction was the data protection act of 2018 that was passed in the uk, but around the world there is simply not enough regulation. I read an article that criticizes the documentary for not providing more solutions. I do agree that the advice they gave to the audience was sort of just thrown in during the credits. I didn’t feel the need to get any more suggestions on a big scale. I think that information exists and you are free to research it individually if you are interested. Another criticism i read is that the documentary itself is manipulating us by not showing us the good aspects of social media, which is kind of an ironic analysis. The thing is this isn’t a courthouse drama. We don’t need to have that balance because the good aspects of social media are not the issue. This documentary is not out to cancel all of social media.
Again it is about building awareness of the business model. From a technical standpoint one thing i didn’t like about the social dilemma is the lack of consistency with the cinematography. Every single one of the interviews was shot differently with some of them getting some super artsy shots like from above or from the other side of the room for some reason. My noticing of these angles meant that i was distracted from the message which is not good.
The live action sequences they included as well were a little hit and miss. Some of these scenes such as the one where the mother tries to remove the family’s phones from the dinner table had a re-enactment sort of vibe as if it was from a TV crime documentary. These scenes fell a little flat for me. Where i think these live action sequences worked well is when they were used to visualize how the technology works. For example when ben’s character becomes a digital puppet controlled by the clones of Vincent Carheiser who represented different functions of the AI.
I also loved the animated sections that disappeared halfway through which was a shame. They were very effective in making points memorable. One of my favorite segments was when there are multiple hands typing on keyboards and then when the hands lift up there are strings attached to the fingers controlling a person. This symbolized how the programmers are inadvertently controlling people’s behaviour. It was in these types of scenes both live-action and animated where rather than social media crisis being this colossal. It became easy to understand and to act upon.
Towards the end of the documentary there were less of these moments and the last 30 minutes felt overly cramped with interviews. There was not enough breathing time, which i think they had a much better balance of before that point. Overall the social dilemma effectively breaks down and creatively illustrates how social media and surveillance capitalism work. It explains how these things affect us individually and as a society. It encourages viewers to thoughtfully reconsider how true the information is that they consume on a daily basis.