Imagine a documentary film which captures a group of highly creative and skilled entrepreneurs discussing their technological innovations and their long-term effects worldwide, sharing key insight and their thoughts on their creations. That is the basis for the Netflix docudrama “The Social Dilemma” (2020), but the end result of the thoughts conveyed by these same individuals gives off more of a “Just what on Earth have we created?” Anyone who watched this documentary most likely ended up scared, adjusting their social media accounts and phone’s privacy settings afterwards, left with the gut feeling that these efforts are probably in vain. A lot of the film’s content is open to the viewer’s interpretation, but it still contains objective and concrete evidence highlighting major concerns surrounding social media and its presence and impact on our daily lives.
Quite a few moments and examples acted out in the film resonated with my own experience, as I’m sure it did with many others. A lot of it is food for thought, and finds you thinking twice before the next time you find yourself browsing videos on Facebook on your lunch break and staying on one video too long. One example the film covers is the almost creepy presence of advertisements all throughout one’s social media apps. Just ask yourself how many times you have been chatting with a co-worker or friend about any specific product, place, event, or service, and for it to be the first thing to pop up as advertisements among your feeds.
Social Dilemma producer Rhodes (2020) covers another important aspect of social media in the political tensions that have escalated as a result of the polarization of society from more vocal groups which have newfound influence through social media. I firmly believe that politics in social media are a double-edged sword: I keep myself informed mostly through Twitter, avoiding sketchy articles or low-res, cropped public posts on Facebook shared countless times. However, it can be quite easy for anyone to fall for click-bait articles and sensationalist headlines, and a country which has always been somewhat divided politically has only seen this division increase exponentially these last few years precisely due to the aforementioned polarization of society.
Joshua Poggianti (2020) sheds some more light on this controversial yet relevant topic. Joshua argues that social media creates what is known as echo chambers, which are “settings where interactions between like-minded individuals result in the amplification of their mutually held beliefs and preferences” (Poggianti, 2020). This is a phenomenon present in many social media platforms accurately described in the documentary: depending on where you are, everyone will either agree with you or mock and ridicule you for your political beliefs and expressions. These same echo chambers have brought about a massive increase in political partisanship (Poggianti, 2020), and for us U.S. folks, we have been exposed to this most notably since the 2016 presidential elections.
In her article, Wendy Tuohy (2020) touches upon the dangers in depression and self-harm for mainly Generation Z children who have been on social media since elementary school. Tuohy adds in statements regarding the harms of social media from teenage girls as well as from professionals within different industries, and how many of them describe their conflict between wanting to delete and leave their Facebook and Instagram accounts behind, and having to lose connection with a lot of their friends who are still using those apps. The film uses examples by telling a real-life story of a teenage girl coping with self-esteem issues by uploading a selfie and facing cyberbullying through strangers’ pointing out her nose, which she clearly shows to be insecure about.
The creators of these global social media platforms actually state that they ban or severely limit their children’s use of these platforms due to concerns of them becoming addicted, out of touch with reality, and having their mental health harmed at a young age (Rhodes, 2020). Knowing this, it is more than likely that any parents having watched the film were awestruck by this and immediately turned to reviewing the settings on their children’s applications and phones. It’s one of many new challenges that young parents face in today’s world, and that many of our parents growing up did not have to even consider. Add to that the unrealistic physical standards that children are being exposed to from a very early age.
We may find ourselves wrongfully judging or rating others by their social media accounts, similar to dark sci-fi fantasy stories where in the future, you’re given a rating for every single interaction imaginable. The film highlights how social media distorts our view of ourselves and our relationships with others. People taking “likes” as a sign of friendship or otherwise when their friends fail to like their newest post, or getting anxiety at the sight of losing followers on a channel. We start to give these trivial things so much importance due to social media’s enormous daily presence in our lives, and I know I have fallen victim to this at least once before in the past. It becomes easy to get so attached to this other side of reality as presented by our social media accounts.
We can make an effort in finding the right balance in our everyday use of technology, particularly with our smartphones, tablets, and computers. It is crucial to let the mind rest from technology. The point is to control it and not let it control us, but saying it is easier than practicing it. Some people may prefer to remain off social media entirely, and some even off of their smartphones, but the reality is that with how impactful these phones are now for so many of our daily activities, to stay off them 24/7 is asking for the impossible. At least, I know I would not be able to stay off of it completely. So much convenience is possible through a smartphone, and text message and bank notifications would probably compel me to get back to my phone if I am trying to stay off of it for the day.
When I do post on social media, I share my creative side with my network of followers and with the rest of the world. I express myself vividly through my music and my guitar playing, my photographs, and my drawings, and while social media isn’t necessarily the only way for me to achieve this, it certainly is the easiest and most practical way. I would most likely keep Instagram if given the choice of only one app, as I am able to do all of this on that one app. It is also similar to YouTube in that I can look up a never-ending library of things that pertain to my interests or whatever it is I want to or need to look up.
The film fails to offer concrete solutions in tackling these types of issues, and really mostly serves to alarm the viewer more than to prepare them. Ultimately, it is up to those who watched it and consequently felt a change was necessary in the way they use this technology to adapt to a different, more disconnected lifestyle. I don’t believe that eliminating it entirely is the solution, nor is it even feasible. Social media is here to stay, and with it so many of its benefits and advantages as well. It keeps us more connected than ever before, helps us network and broaden our understanding of other cultures and mindsets, and allows us to share so much creativity and positivity, as well.
The truth of the matter is that social media has great power which like all things in excess, can cause a lot of damage: unhealthy addictions, anxiety, unrealistic beauty standards, self-esteem issues, distortion of reality, issues in forming and maintaining relationships, etc. The list goes on, and I believe that, from a simpler point of view, it’s a matter of balancing it out with reality, but I understand that this in itself is also a matter of privilege, as not everyone is able to keep themselves busy with work, school, friends, family, exercise, and hobbies, finding it easier to remain disconnected from social media through these activities.
Poggianti, J. (2020, November 3). How social media divides us. The McGill International Review. https://www.mironline.ca/how-social-media-divides-us/
Tuohy, W. (2020, September 27). ‘It makes you want to throw your phone in the bin’: The film turning teens off social media. The Age. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/it-makes-you-want-to-throw-your-phone-in-the-bin-the-film-turning-teens-off-social-media-20200926-p55zhi.html
Rhodes, L. (Producer). (2020). The social dilemma [Video]. Netflix. http://www.netflix.com