Why The Social Dilemma is Wrong

And could actually cause more harm than good

Danielle Newnham

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The Social Dilemma, Netflix

Forget the robots taking over, we are already living in dystopia according to The Social Dilemma. It has been lauded by some as the most important documentary of our times because it exposes the imaginary evil algorithms that big tech companies such as Facebook, Google and YouTube use to control and manipulate us. It asserts that these companies are squarely responsible for our screen addiction, our thoughts and ills.

A film narrated by a number of people who have worked at social networks for a period of time is interwoven with bizarre dramatization including Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) as an algorithm. Netflix describes it as a “documentary-drama hybrid that explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

I thought it was complete nonsense. The film explores the effect of mobile phones and social networks on our behaviour, and among its many claims, the film’s advertising states that “the technology that connects us, also controls us.” They go further, the word “controls” is replaced with “manipulates” “polarizes” “distracts” “divides” and “monetizes.”

Following its release last year, there was a rallying cry from its makers to delete Facebook or, at least, turn off our notifications. After over an hour of scaremongering and sensationalism, the solution they offered was… to turn off our notifications.

And I can’t help but see the irony now when the film’s protagonist, Tristan Harris, et al are asking their social media followers (yes, they have social media accounts — even the film has its own social media presence) to spread news about it being free to watch on YouTube — a platform criticized in the film.

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Danielle Newnham

Host of Danielle Newnham Podcast — interviews with tech founders and innovators. Writer. Author. Recovering Founder.