The Social Dilemma is a documentary from Netflix that explores the damage of social media within our culture. Driven by the work of Tristan Harris, it brings together former creators of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google for a scary examination of what their work has created.
The documentary itself is very interesting, but there is nothing flash about it. It’s very up front and on the nose with what it is trying to tell you. There is a dramatic story to help illustrate it’s message, but it wasn’t needed.
What it does do well is get you to think about how you use media, or how you think you ‘use’ it. The scariest part of the documentary is how they explain that what was once a conscious choice to take in what our friends and family are doing is now a trap that actually decides for you.
The driving forces behind growth, engagement and monetisation all talk about how they built machines to predict our behaviour to deliver content in the ‘smartest‘ way. Put simply they would show is what we needed to stay looking at their page. This in turn keeps us engaged and drives in revenue through advertisements.
The fact that this is so close to Westworld season 3 doesn’t bode well, is you’re suspicious at all.
Why Should You Consider Your Usage?
What I couldn’t help but agree with when watching this documentary is that everything they said throughout, I was nodding along to. Do I check my phone before anything when I wake up? Yes. Do I scroll endlessly and refresh my feeds? Yes. Have I been caught in a rabbit hole on Youtube? Yes.
Do I also notice how easily social media can influence our culture and society? Absolutely, and in truth it’s scary. Fake news is liable to travel 6 times quicker than the genuine story. Through social medias fanning of the flames we eat up any dramatic story but don’t question it’s source.
Have you ever read something, that sounds ridiculous and not even questioned it, maybe even shared it? Once we are aware of this, people with money and influence are able to use this, almost weaponize it for gain.
Radical ideas and groups are able to grow exponentially through social media’s precise predicting and targeting. An algorithm doesn’t choose between radical ideas and wholesome content. Their systems are designed to learn everything about you. How you go about your usage on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Twitter and more is your true identity.
Feed this into a computer that is able to calculate billions of formula before you can blink and the result is that you’ll only ever come across content that you don’t realise you’re looking for.
If you use google in a different location, the results will change to suit the current culture. This works with extremely serious matters such as elections. If you go to place that votes in a certain way, you’ll see content to help make you see the same way as everyone else in your area, without knowing, social media is assuming the role of a Shepard.
There’s a much, much darker side.
Not only is social media feeding you content based on your behaviour and their needs to make billions in revenue, it’s becoming a leading cause in mental health issues.
The very nature of my Instagram, this blog, my Twitter is designed to drive in likes and engagement. I’d love to have more engagement than the 10 I got on Wednesday. Fortunately for me, I can brush this off. Every time I write I’m learning more, every post is out there but I’m used to it drifting off into an ocean without any fish to bite on it.
So for me, I wouldn’t say the impacts of social media are detrimental, it only reinforced what I already know, I’m never really part of a conversation, I’m just outside of it.
Unfortunately for millions more, that ‘like’ button is worth much, much more to them. In fact, it’s more or less what will dictate their behaviour and mental wellbeing. For those that are born from 1996 onwards are most likely impacted. That means that about now the majority of them are starting to shape our society by taking those roles in finance, politics, IT, the Army, science, health and way more.
What we have done to them is make them so anxious that their life is judged by likes and positive reinforcement that where it is not supplied they are being unbalanced and they struggle to find any self worth. They aren’t able to use their brilliant minds to help make a difference in society. Their kind souls aren’t making friends and helping the lives around them. Instead they’re jumping off bridges, cutting their wrists because a stranger from Taiwan called them ugly on their phone.
The rate of suicide has increased by over 150% in some age groups from as little as 11 years old. Growing up with depression and anxiety wasn’t common with my friends, family or anyone I came into contact with.
Since then we have put in time and effort to not only understand it more but we’ve seen it spread everywhere, it’s about the same rate as social medias growth, and the coincidence is there for everyone to see.
Black Mirror have done an episode that is essentially this take on society. ‘Nosedive’ is the one to check out, it’s pretty good objectively.
I’ve been at my place of work and seen people post pictures then delete them because there’s not enough interaction and then seen attempts 2 and 3 at different times later in the day, until they have satisfied their own need for attention.
This is just one, simple way that Instagram, for example, is able to dictate someones behaviour, mood and emotions. It’s in their power to reach out to as many people to dictate how many will like the content.
What the likes does is also double edged. The user (the only other industry to call its customers users) needs a number of likes to satisfy themselves. But by doing that they’re also putting it out there as a sort of bench mark that damages others. That like number is a weapon that you don’t realise you’re firing.
What Can You Do?
Switch off. It sounds so simple but we’re triggered by the same chemicals we are with any other form of addiction. The best thing you can do is limit your usage. Whether that’s to time of the day or a set amount of hours.
Question your content. Have you found the source of what you’re taking in. Is it credible and is it true? A quick search through various other places will soon point you in the right direction.
Does it matter to you? What we often find is we follow a bunch of people/ accounts that mean nothing to us but we don’t get rid of it. This is where more of that targeted posts are coming from. Filter through what you’re choosing to take in so you can take in less of what you don’t choose.
Consider your privacy. The default options for privacy are usually pretty open so that they can be used openly by the developers. Does this suit you, make sure you lockdown how much you share.
Only post positively. There’s nothing to be gained by ‘shitposting’ anywhere. Putting someone down will not lift you up. It’s never worked that way and it doesn’t on social media. it doesn’t matter if it’s someone with 10 followers or a celebrity with millions, everyone reads it.
As social media has grown, we’ve let it take over and filter into every aspect of our lives. Without realising it knows more about us than anyone, or anything possibly could do in the same amount of time.
Being conscious of your time on social media can make a massive difference. Being positive and making sure the content you take in is the content you wanted and not rabbits on skateboards at 3am.
Be mindful of those around you and check in on them. You don’t know how their recent post could have impacted them. Support your friends that believe likes are more important than air. Make sure you’re in control of your own media because it has the power to do so much greatness.
All the facts and figures in the post come from The Social Dilemma documentary and their website thesocialdilemma.com