A Student's View On "The Social Dilemma"

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

the social dilemma

"The Social Dilemma" Documentary Review by Senior, Jack Martin

It’s almost impossible for me to remember a time before social media. When I started middle school in 2011, I had already had a cell phone for a few years. I constantly texted my friends, always checking to see if I had a new message in my inbox. I didn’t have a Facebook (yet), but a number of my peers did. Eventually, everyone had a Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, always interacting with each other, posting memes or navigating drama. We all became fully entrenched in our online lives because they directly impacted our social circles.

Going into my freshman year of high school, I downloaded Twitter, which to this day is my most-used social media application. I wasn’t concerned about my data being used to target my timelines; I had no idea it was even happening.

I recently watched “The Social Dilemma”, a new Netflix original documentary in which “tech experts sound the alarm on the dangerous human impact of social networking.” The message is essentially this: social networking companies like Google and Facebook are watching your every online move, targeting your feeds, and using algorithms to direct advertisements and dictate exactly what you see. This isn’t exactly new information but the b-roll interviews used in the film are tech experts who have worked for these companies, and even invented the functions (such as the “like” button) that have directly led to these anxieties. The most concerning part is that these experts are gravely concerned about what these implications hold for the future of society. They’re skeptically optimistic that we can fix things but warn that if we don’t get ahead of these issues, a dystopia isn’t out of the question.

As a 21-year-old college senior, social media is a massive part of my everyday life. I admittedly spend too much time on my phone and constantly check for new notifications. It’s how I keep up with the news and my friends. Social media keeps me connected, even though I’m well aware that companies are using my data to target advertisements and content towards me. For my generation, it’s just a reality. It’s something that makes me uncomfortable, but it’s hard to see a way around it. I’m a journalism major who works on the side for a multimedia entertainment start-up. We use social media a lot. It’s the way we promote content, interact with fans, and sell merchandise. My generation isn’t turning to newspapers or cable news to get information; I watched the presidential debate on YouTube. If there was a way for me to be less connected through social media and not think it was going to impact my future career, I would. While I do get pleasure from my Twitter timeline, I more often than not find myself mindlessly scrolling past the same tweets that I had read twenty minutes ago.

As college students, we’re not unaware of the dangers of social media. We know that it can cause depression and anxiety. We’re aware we spend far too much time on various platforms, but it’s how we were raised. We’re a generation who spent puberty comparing ourselves to Instagram posts and Snapchat stories. It’s an unfortunate reality, but is there a way around it? This isn’t to say that there aren’t benefits, I mean, we’re the most connected generation in history. The amount of information at our fingertips is quite literally endless and I feel like I’ve learned so much by getting lost in Wikipedia wormholes and iMBD trivia.

“The Social Dilemma” is an important watch because it shows viewers that these fears being felt across the world are also held by the same people who were behind these companies blatantly using our information against us. It’s vital to be aware in order to conduct social media use responsibly. The purpose of the film isn’t to ring all the alarms and say that dystopia is already upon us. It’s telling us that we can stop this and we need to. Quickly.