Our Take: 3.5/5 Stars
Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” is a 90-minute documentary featuring experts who have ample experience working in the social tech industry. These experts have all come together to share a simple message: the purpose of social media has evolved, and not in a good way.
Rhetorically, the documentary contains multiple elements that make it an interesting watch. Expert opinions, animations and graphics combined with sitcom-like real-life examples of the adverse effects of social media work together to convey all the abstract concepts that tech experts bring up throughout the documentary.
Fundamentally, the idea of “The Social Dilemma” is quite simple: to remind people to put their phones down, because social media giants will not. Experts discuss the negative side effects of spending too much time on social media, including the deterioration of mental health. One even described “Snapchat dysmorphia,” a term coined to describe young adults visiting plastic surgeons to look more like Snapchat filters.
Amid this incredulity, though, “The Social Dilemma” discusses how the purpose of social media has wavered. Initially the goal was to connect individuals, keep people informed and serve as a means to meet new people. Yet modern social media platforms have evolved into something darker and more concerning.
Now, users scroll through their Instagram feeds, watching other people post bikini pictures or showing off their six-packs, envious and sad that they do not (or can not) look like that.
Users look at those around them and become sad that they do not have as many friends.
Popularity has been quantified and is constantly visible to the entire world, determined by the number of Instagram followers, Snapchat streaks and TikTok videos, all located on a screen, easily accessible.
As one reporter says in the documentary, “The tools that we have created have started to erode the social fabric of how society works.”
Experts like Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, shifted the blame from the individual to the tech giant.
Harris claimed that the influence social media has come to have on individuals puts engineers and creators on a pedestal.
“Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on 2 billion people,” Harris aptly pointed out.
Harris contends that the tech industry is not even attempting to curb a growing social media addiction, but is instead encouraging it by adding more features and functionalities to their apps. Equipped with extra power, these designers make decisions based on the betterment of their software rather than that of people’s mental health. All of his points make sense; consumers being addicted to their social media feeds means more ad revenue and more lucrative data collection for the big-tech behemoths.
The problem with “The Social Dilemma,” though, is that everyone’s heard the monotone “social media is bad for you” message about a million times. Who has not heard about the negative impacts of social media? And yes, this documentary explains and exemplifies this issue better than most, but the content is well researched, rehearsed, and worn.
Besides, discussing the negative impact of social media in a time where people rely on social media more than ever to stay in touch with each other seems counterintuitive and unproductive. It is not consumers’ faults.
While this documentary is a great resource to better understand how social media politics work, it seems unlikely that anyone will stop scrolling through their Instagram feeds any time soon.