Are We Really in a Social Dilemma? - A Review of the Netflix Documentary 'The Social Dilemma'

The new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, has created a buzz by encouraging its viewers to re-evaluate their relationships with technology, specifically social media. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to watch this documentary yet, The Social Dilemma explores how the Internet’s most popular social media platforms employ a business model to track users’ behavior and create data. The data is used to sell targeted ads and encourage addiction in a vicious cycle to its users. 

The documentary features interviews with tech experts and employees from these social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, commenting on the detrimental effects of social media on the youth today. The documentary touches on these networks' role in influencing elections, ethnic and racial bias, and increased depression and suicide rates. Given the significantly large presence of these platforms in our lives, the director, Jeff Orlowski, describes this social media crisis as “a climate change of culture.” 

Today, social media acts as a digital pacifier- a one-stop solution for emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, etc. It becomes our coping strategy, and this vicious circle is a considerable danger to our mental well being. For instance, the documentary discusses this correlation, especially when consuming and engaging with appearance-focused content that promotes specific societal beauty standards. This concept exemplifies real life in the adverse mental health of teenage girls and the adoption of smartphones. A phenomenon called ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ has affected adolescent girls as they use Snapchat and Instagram filters as a source of inspiration for their desired plastic surgeries. We have entered into the world of selfie perfection, which is now invading young teenagers' real lives. 

Hearing the first-hand accounts of the creators themselves' severe dangers made me want to quit all social media several times throughout the documentary instantly. It seems like this is a sci-fi experiment gone wrong, and this Pandora’s box is never to be closed again. This sci-fi experiment gone wrong comes to life as the documentary elicits the fear of the unknown. What is the future of AI? What will we do when AI has power beyond what we can control? 

Creating technology that brings people together is the goal of these social networks has been, and it has successfully done so. Especially in the current world scenario where many of us are social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these social networks have connected us to our loved ones. Social media has helped connect like-minded people all across the world in finding their niche and mass communities. Social media has pioneered activist movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter in a new direction, creating real change. While it has had all these benefits, The Social Dilemma taught me to be critical of the social media around me and remain in control of how I engage with my social media. Media literacy and awareness are the first steps towards achieving both of these goals mentioned above. Watching an eye-opening documentary like The Social Dilemma, is a significant first step. 

Watch the trailer for The Social Dilemma here.