Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ explores the dark side of social media

"The Social Dilemma" aims to expose the danger in social media. Image by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

By Saumya Rastogi
BU News Service

Social media is a nearly inescapable facet of life nowadays. But how has its presence and our usage of it affected society as a whole? Director Jeff Orlowski aims to answer in this docudrama “The Social Dilemma.” 

A Netflix original “The Social Dilemma,” talks about the harms of social media and explores potential hazards by amplifying current fears beyond anything imaginable. It is an effort to showcase the dark side of social media, such as illegal data mining and manipulative technology to predict and control human psychology. 

The film uses cinematic techniques to complement the informational content and help elicit an appropriate emotional response from viewers. Eerie background music alludes to the dystopian world society is heading towards with every click, with every like, with every scroll. It’s like the soundtrack that would come with a horror movie, but it’s a horror movie that we are actually living through. 

Interviews from notable figures in the IT industry are paired with this music to create a sense of urgency.

The people interviewed started these digital networks and came to know about its evils later on. 

“Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people,” said Tristan Harris, a retired design ethicist from Google who was among those interviewed in this documentary.

The experts illustrate their experiences, and their narration has a chilling effect. The industry’s former employees say that they were unaware of the kind of power that social media would have, which helps the documentary portray the horrid reality of the technology we have come to love.

Although “The Social Dilemma” is a documentary, it uses fictional narrative scenes throughout the film to show how social media can affect everyday people’s lives.

Some characters in these scenes include a younger daughter addicted to social media, a son who gets involved with polarizing conspiracy theories, and an older daughter who has disassociated herself from the virtual world.

Set in a universe similar to that of “Black Mirror,” this docudrama part of the documentary discusses essential themes such as social media addiction and depression, fake news, and the effects of algorithms to increase these applications’ growth and interactions. 

The documentary goes the extra mile by using hyperbole to show social media as damaging to every aspect of our life. It talks about how a simple “like” button could conflate our sense of self-worth with external validation, or how a filter in a selfie could lead to distorted and unrealistic standards of beauty.

While the documentary does show the adverse effects of social media, it does not end on a sad note. The inventors and creators talk about how the industry can be regulated to bring about positive change.

They also suggest ways that everyday people can combat the adverse effects of social media, like preventing children from having social media accounts, following groups that don’t conform to our ideology to prevent distorted visions of the truth, or even restricting screen time. The documentary ends with a looming question: can big tech companies stop this impending doom using ethical design and humane technology, or is it too late?

This documentary is a must-watch for anyone interested in technology, who wants to change their social media habits and understand and create awareness about the harms it can cause.

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