Ten years ago, a film called The Social Network celebrated the rise of Facebook and success of its superstar frontman Mark Zuckerberg. While the movie exposed some of the dark truths (ie: lots of lawbreaking) of the world’s most successful online platform at the time, for the most part it was “entertaining, cheeky and startlingly prescient” as Rolling Stone would go on to describe it.
One decade on and even Zuckerberg wouldn’t have predicted the fallout that would occur when such a well-connected social networking site is constantly at our fingertips and in our faces.
The Social Dilemma is a documentary that has recently been added to Netflix, which looks at the problems we face when ‘social’ sites and apps, such as Facebook, override our respect for humanity and erode our trust and belief in corporations and common decency.
The film begins with discussion of how social media has the potential to do great things in building a better world, but ends with the current state of chaos we appear to be in – witnessing one doomsday scenario after another.
Of course, Facebook is not the only culprit disparaged by The Social Dilemma. So too are YouTube, Twitter, Google, Reddit, Snapchat, Instagram and recent players such as TikTok and WhatsApp. In fact, just about every business based in Silicon Valley gets a good verbal beating: even Uber.
Each internet-centred business is criticised for breaking one moral code or another: Facebook with its privacy breaches, TikTok in its casual handling of copyright issues, Twitter for its procreation of fake news… while each has suggestions thrown at them by the very people who used to hold high positions at the companies they critique.
Most of the perspectives presented in the film are from individuals who held big roles at each e-company. And some of the secrets they impart will shock even the most knowledgeable computer nerd. Still, you’ve got to wonder why these folks didn’t do something to fix social media while they were in positions of power…
Much of the ethical conversation is helmed by Tristan Harris, president and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and a former Google employee. Harris reminds us of the dangers of social media addiction, privacy breaches, brainwashing on behalf of advertisers, falling into the habit of doom-scrolling, and the loss of physical contact with people.
By the end of the film – while the viewer is feeling more paranoid than a subject in George Orwell’s 1984 – most of its vocal contributors come across as vehemently against social media, urging viewers to unplug, switch off, and get back to the real world.
But by then it’s too late: they’ve also warned us that the damage has been done; huge corporations already have most of the data they need in order to put us into handy categories and push products (and bad news) into our faces that we don’t really need.
After watching The Social Dilemma, I still couldn’t help picking up my phone to check missed messages. I also couldn’t bring myself to shut down any of my social media accounts (a difficult thing to do, considering I need to promote articles such as this to you).
I did, however, manage to log out of Facebook for a day and switched off all notifications from Twitter, Instagram and a few others. At least for now. Admittedly, should I not have had anything to write or promote, I’d probably still stay hooked on some of these apps. Including watching riveting documentaries on Netflix.