The Social Dilemma – Netflix Documentary Review

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If there’s one horror movie you watch this year, make sure it’s The Social Dilemma. This frightening and disturbing look at social media addiction serves up a chilling cautionary tale for where our future is heading.

With a blend of dramatized segments and tech experts (notably former employees of these companies) warning about their own creations, this documentary is compulsory viewing.

Everyone has one social media channel they have the itch to check. Personally, my go-to was Reddit before YouTube took over. Thanks to work, that’s now slowly being pulled in the direction of Facebook. For others, this may be Twitter and Instagram. Others still could find Pinterest more their jam.

The point I’m making is that this hydra has many snarling, frightening heads. If you cut one off, another is sure to take it’s place. Only, the real paradox here comes from the time spent browsing these channels.

Every click, every scroll, every minute spent stopping by a picture is recorded, analyzed and fed back into a system designed to keep you hooked for longer than the last session. As this documentary itself tells us, only two industries refer to their consumers as users – illegal drugs and software.

This problem forms the crux of The Social Dilemma which brings the old adage to the foreground for the discussion being made. “If you’re not paying for the product then you are the product.” 

Across 90 minutes, this documentary gathers some of the more influential names in the social media field to discuss what’s really going on and the dangers it poses.

In particular, they draw specific reference to the AI algorithm and it’s always-learning, ever-evolving nature. While good in theory, this combines with the slot-machine-esque newsfeeds to entice you to scroll down “one more time.”

The result of this is, of course, psychological differences in the brain that turn us into mindless slaves to the system. Tristan Harris, Jaron Lanier and Jeff Seibert are three of the bigger names discussing the issues affecting us but they’re joined by various others in the field too. As mentioned earlier, it’s worth noting that a lot of these men and women are former employees.

The documentary covers most of the big topics before diving into current-world problems that are affecting us today. Despite being more connected than ever before, the world is more divided too. Whether it be old vs young, remain vs brexit, Democrats vs Republicans or even pandemic vs “plandemic”, these divides are only exacerbated through social media. This is only getting worse over time. And more violent.

As a Father of two, I’ve seen both my kids grow up with technology from a young age and experiencing the same highs and lows that I do across these platforms. I’m thankful that I can message my son at any time but also concerned about the addictive nature of social media and how they’ll cope with this addictive pull.

While slightly better than it was years ago, YouTube is still not entirely child-friendly. While my son happily watches Minecraft videos and is recommended more of the same, my daughter is fascinated by the weird and wonderful things in the world.

Her descent into YouTube’s questionable content began with a video about weird facts for kids. This led to weird animals which eventually led to “the scariest animals in the world” and, unsurprisingly “monsters caught on tape.” For a 6 year old, this obviously is not appropriate and an example of when the algorithm can go completely wrong. 

As a parent, I’m sure I’m not alone with these stories and as the world continues to grow and embrace AI-driven systems, it’s hard to know where we’ll eventually draw the line. Through this documentary are numerous startling facts and figures, including rising suicide rates among young girls and the break-down of real world conversations and meaningful relationships.

What’s particularly scary though is just how much pull these big companies have. The fact that our very democracy is now under threat thanks to social media brings the conversation back to the very real possibility of what’s in our future. A fractured dystopia of untrusting, divided sides? Civil war? Or perhaps we’re scrolling and subscribing to the systemic collapse of society as we know it.

While some will be turned away by the dramatized segments, I personally think they work really well to hammer home the messages being told. The snapchat filters are easily the big highlights here while the over-the-top dinner table segment perhaps could have worked better if the family sat in silence and the jar was kept out of sight.

Still, these are minor points in what’s otherwise a startling and incredibly uncomfortable documentary to watch. This is a must-watch and easily the best documentary of the year.

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  • Verdict - 9.5/10

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