Updated date:

The Social Dilemma: To Be or Not to Be on Social Media

I used to work as a corporate banker. My background is economics & psychology.

In 2020 director Jeff Orlowski released The striking documentary The Social Dilemma. Jeff Orlowski is best known for directing and producing the Emmy Award-winning documentary Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral.

His latest documentary, The Social Dilemma, is now available on Netflix. I watched it, and it didn't leave me indifferent.

A life without WhatsApp, Instagram, and YouTube is almost impossible to imagine. Social media have brought many great things to our world, but there is also a downside. You can see what the negative consequences are in this new Netflix film.

People who criticize social media are often labeled as 'boomers who cannot keep up with the young generation,' or something similar. However, the best thing about the documentary The Social Dilemma is that its criticism on social media is much harsher. And it comes from co-founders and (former) directors of companies such as:

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Google
  • Instagram, and the likes.

Scientists and professors from many renowned universities complement the documentary. The director has also added a fictional dramatic storyline. This narrative shows how easily and swiftly a normal boy can radicalize.

This documentary addresses specific issues such as:

It turns our online attention into a commodity.

And like any other commodity, it can be sold to the highest bidder.

We now consider it normal that the trade in human bodies (slavery) and human organs is prohibited. But regulating the trade in human attention has not been addressed yet...?

It polarizes our world.

The current revenue model behind social media can only increase polarization, fake news, discussions, tensions, and contradictions. After all, the best way to hold social media users' attention is to arouse emotions in them. The influence of social media on what we see and read is becoming increasingly clear. The Social Dilemma shows that this is not a mistake. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram know exactly what to feed us. And we are all too eager to catch their bait. Through the AI they use, they know more and more about us by analyzing our online behavior. These social media companies use (abuse this information.

It tracks our behavior 24/7.

Although we are active on social media daily, we often do not realize how it controls our lives. An impressive list of insiders paint a terrifying picture of how websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram succeed in doing this.

The Social Dilemma | Official Trailer | Netflix

The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma is about the enormous impact that a relatively small number of engineers from Silicon Valley, where most tech companies are located, have on the way we think, act, and live.

Through social media, conspiracy theories go viral, teenagers develop mental problems, and there is a massive amount of misinformation and fake news.

In the film, the co-inventor of the Facebook 'like-button' Justin Rosenstein, former director of Pinterest Tim Kendall, and former director of finance of Facebook Cathy O'Neil, among others, give their views on the negative aspects of social media.

According to the speakers, the system, which connects us on the one hand, has enormous (invisible) control over us on the other hand.
That control is so bad that, according to them, it could pose a threat to humanity.

In recent years, there have been regular scandals about privacy problems on social media. Furthermore, the influence of social media on what we see is becoming increasingly apparent. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram do this intentionally.

Predict and Influence Behavior

These large Internet Companies have become masters in predicting and influencing behavior.
The documentary explains how everything about social media aims to manipulate you and make you addicted. This is how they try to predict, steer, and influence our behavior.

"I want people to know that everything they do online is watched, followed, and measured," says former Twitter manager Jeff Seibert in the documentary's trailer.

"Every action you take is carefully monitored and recorded. They follow exactly which images you stop at, what you are watching and how long you are watching them".

It is precisely such testimonies from former top people in the industry that are the strength of The Social Dilemma. They're technicians and developers who helped build the online world, but got out of it when they realized the damage it could do.

Social Media Company Headquarters

Insiders explain how 'inhuman' the algorithms are. Through Artificial Intelligence, algorithms know better and better what to serve you to keep your attention for as long as possible. Holding your attention is how all those social media companies earn many billions.
The AI algorithms that social media companies use are built and fine-tuned to draw your attention. Through machine learning, they not only continuously optimize their predictive power, but most probably also know better what you want than you can put it into words yourself.

Now you might arrogantly think: "No, they don't know me any better than I do. Surely, I am an exception. But where 'we' can get lost in this kind of ego-fighting, an algorithm doesn't suffer from that. Thus, it can - often unnoticed - start to influence us on a much more unconscious level. Influencing which some scientists even see as an existential threat to our survival as an animal species.

A Curse Or A Blessing?

Personal observations

As I mentioned in the introduction, the filmmaker also filled in space to draw a family portrait. You may relate to what is going on within that family. The situation is recognizable.

In any case, even before this documentary came out, I realized that the use of social media and many internet services is not always good for me.

I noticed that I was often annoyed by what I found on various channels. I also saw a hardening and rigidity of points of view in many areas. This was partly caused by the fact that the algorithms used by social internet companies also consciously fed me information that strengthened my conviction. I was also confronted with things that excited me more and more. The algorithms of those companies also served me that information in bite-sized chunks. After all, nothing holds the attention for so long and generates clicks like ascending emotions.

I became more and more aware of the online bubble I was living in, and this made me far from happy.

I also witnessed what different opinions on social media within a family can lead to. Believe me, it ain't pretty.

Lead by example

I had already freed myself from Facebook and Instagram in the past. Now I don't use my Twitter account anymore. And on Youtube, I avoid the "recommended" videos like the plague. I search specifically for what I want to know and ignore the rest. I've also blocked access to many websites on my iPad and iMac.

That feels good. As a result I read more and stay relaxed longer!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Raymond Philippe


Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on October 06, 2020:

You are welcome. Take care.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 05, 2020:

This is an interesting and thought-provoking article. I've been concerned about my use of social media lately because of some of the points that you mention in your article. I'm considering making some changes soon. Thanks for creating this article.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on October 05, 2020:

Hi Devika, that makes sense to me. Thanks for your visit.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 05, 2020:

Raymond I like the idea of this hub. Social media is not a place for me. I do advertize my books on Twitter have a Facebook account and on Instagram but don't spend a lot of time it is just for business.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 26, 2020:

Hello Denise, thanks for visiting and commenting. The social media fasting your son sometimes does is indeed a smart habit to develop. Take care, Raymond

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 26, 2020:

Thanks for dropping by. We indeed have to be careful and selective.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 26, 2020:

It comes back to a self-discipline thing where we have to know ourselves and restrict our access. If you can't do that then it would be wise to cut it off altogether. I know my son goes on month-long "fasts" from all social media to refocus his life. It makes sense. The young people can't cut it off altogether since many of their contacts are there. I need to see this documentary soon.



Vanita Thakkar on September 26, 2020:

Very informative and useful article. It gives required alarm signal about the harmful effects of social media. Even though we remain selective and careful, problems are inevitable. The observation on "trading of human attention" should be taken seriously.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 25, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your insights Peggy. I recognise the dilemma. Even if you don't care about using social media, sometimes you still want to use it to promote what you've written.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 24, 2020:

Flourish, that seems a sensible way to deal with youtube. I sometimes use my wife's Facebook account (she knows about that ;-)) to see what our relatives are posting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 24, 2020:

Big brother seems to be everywhere these days. Your article is an eye-opener! I only look for youtube videos to enhance my articles and otherwise spend little time there. I do post photos and links related to what I am writing on HubPages to twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. When posting to my business Facebook page, that is the only time I scroll down the page to see what friends may be posting. So, all in all, I do not spend much time on social media sites. That being said, the ads often closely relate to my searches on the Internet.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 24, 2020:

I also find it quite scary. Many Big Brothers follow us. Whether we want it or not.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 23, 2020:

On YouTube all I do is song research for my music articles and watching cat videos so I figure I am relatively safe. On Pinterest I notice that recently I’ve been getting notices that certain pins if you click on them can lead to spam which I appreciate knowing since that’s fewer sites tracking me. I just don’t click then. I hate Facebook and wish it would go away. I haven’t deleted my existence there, but most of my interactions are birthday messages. Parties should have to pay you every time they use your data— little digit currency bits to match the data value they are getting. I’m sure they can do this if they wanted to.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 23, 2020:

Eye opening. Incredible. I just cannot comprehend how this is possible.