“The Social Dilemma” and its 10 Tips To Get Less Addicted To Social Media

The first time I heard about this must-watch docudrama, “The Social Dilemma,” was through a few of my friends’ Instagram stories. Premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, directed by Emmy Award-winning director, Jeff Orlowski and acquired by the infamous streaming site, Netflix, it is no surprise that this film is stirring a buzz on social media ― the platform that the film itself promotes as infectious and damaging. There is definitely a lot of irony when it comes to the film’s main purpose and the film’s platform for distribution, but it is undeniable that social media is a powerful instrument that we all cannot let go of. If it weren’t for social media and the internet, we would probably not even care about selfies or what an international celebrity eats for breakfast. 

“The Social Dilemma” explores the growth of social media and the damaging effects its corrupt and unethical programming imposes on society by hearing first-hand information from former employees of companies such as Google, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Specifically, it unveils a series of evidence that points to how these social media platforms are programmed to nurture addiction, expand fake news loopholes, use data mining for political and anti-democratic purposes, and prioritize capitalism over people’s well-being. 

After watching this documentary, I can say that I was pretty boggled by the detailed information presented to me, revealing how I have consented to be used and manipulated by these large companies. At the end credits, however, the former employees and now advocates for humane technology, left a few tips and tricks to start getting less addicted to social media. As the creators and developers of the platforms we use today, they essentially dismantled their own work and gave advice as to how you can avoid being sucked in the social media loophole, which I have conveniently listed below:

1. Turn off notifications!

That vibrating sensation in your pockets or on your desk shouldn’t be tolerated on all hours of the day or even at all, especially for unnecessary information. If it’s not an immediate notification like an email, a text message or a false purchase on your credit card, former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris and Facebook’s like button co-creator, Justin Rosenstein say that notifications would be better turned off.

2. Uninstall unnecessary applications.

Going hand-in-hand with turning off all applications, downloading a ton of unnecessary applications will only feed you into a system of addiction that social media wants you to be part of. If not super necessary, delete applications.

3. Look into other search engines like Qwant - Google stores your search history.

I know that not using Google sounds borderline criminal, but former Google software engineer and the developer of the recommendation function on YouTube, Guillaume Chaslot, says that we should try and use other browsers if we care about data privacy.

4. “Never accept a video recommended to you on YouTube. Always choose.”

The founder of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, emphasizes that recommendations are there to feed us what the internet thinks we want. It runs a cycle of systemic addiction to keep you consuming the same kind of content continuously on end. Getting out of the habit of clicking every recommendation that pops up, will help decrease the chances of you getting sucked into a media bubble.

5. Use Chrome extensions to remove recommendations on your browser.

Jumping off of the recommendations conversation, Chaslot recommends using Chrome extensions to remove recommendations on your browser. 

6. Fact-check before sharing things online.

This is something that we should be doing already, but Renee DiResta, the technical research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory, encourages users to read and explore before sharing information. She adds that we should be vigilant of content that blatantly aims to push our buttons before sharing it.

7. Try not to click on clickbait unless you do want to incentivize someone else’s work.

Justin Rosenstein says that our clicks are essentially like votes. By clicking on clickbait, we are consenting to engage in a cycle of financial incentive that keeps social media getting what it wants. So by being vigilant of what we click on, we are not only creating a better platform for us but we are also not allowing social media to easily control our interests.

8. Follow people that you disagree with.

Make sure that you are consuming a variety of information and not keeping yourself stuck in your own bubble. Data scientist Cathy O’Neil says that by following people and watching content that you disagree with, you are not only opening yourself up to new opinions but you are also allowing yourself to hear the side of others to foster better understanding and engage in collective conversations.

9. Don’t support social media use at a young age. 

A common thread among all the experts in the film is that they encourage families to reduce the amount of screen time for teenagers and simply remove social media from younger children. Getting children and early adolescents exposed to what social media is today is quite dangerous and unnerving not only for the children but also for family members.

10. Keep your device out of the bedroom at specific times.

Lastly, as recommended by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, keeping our devices out of our bedrooms at specific times before going to bed will immensely help our sleeping patterns and benefit our overall well-being. 

Well, that summarizes all the tips given by tech experts themselves. If you want to learn more about the monstrosity that is social media, I would recommend you grab a friend or a family member and watch “The Social Dilemma” this weekend. I hope these tips help you slowly work your way toward a better social media environment, even if it takes as slow as you can go. Just remember that the founder of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier says, “Do it! Get out of the system. Yeah, delete. Get off the stupid stuff.”