An examination of the social dilemma


Former Big Tech insiders reveal what made them turn against the powerful platforms they helped create and promote.

Nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without a curse. – Sophocles

This quote opens the docudrama, “The Social Dilemma,” a hardline indictment against Big Tech and the social media platforms it created. These platforms have stabbed us, angered us, entertained us, used us as human bait for billions of dollars in advertising revenue, divided us socially and politically, and deliberately reduced us to social media junkies.

The titanic power of social media platforms has never been so in the news, but in addition to general questions about their power to promote or silence, we also need to understand what they are trying to do to us on a level individual. Now streaming on Netflix and directed by Jeff Orlowski, “The Social Dilemma” features a host of former tech insiders from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and more. Several of them were top executives, and all of them have one thing in common: they ultimately turned against the products and the mindset that drives Big Tech.

Here are some of the most dramatic indictments these insiders have leveled against the industry:

Facebook found that they were able to detect real-world behaviors and emotions without triggering user awareness.
“If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. You are a click trap.
“There are only two industries that call their customers users: illegal drugs and software. “

Tristan Harris is a former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. He became frustrated with the lack of moral concern for what social media was doing to people. “I felt we had lost our way,” he said. “No one at Google was talking about the obvious addictive quality of emails, but instead they just focused on inbox colors. He wrote a manifesto, “A Call to Arms,” ​​urging Google colleagues to take responsibility for the broader moral issues surrounding social media participation.

“There are only two industries that call their customers users: illegal drugs and software. “

“Never before in history have there been only 50 designers, all white males between the ages of 20 and 30, who have influenced the behavior of 50 million people,” he said. Initially, his manifesto created a buzz. It has been uploaded hundreds of times to Google, and people have been talking about it for a day or two, telling Harris they totally agree. Then nothing more. He quit Google, citing “ethical concerns”.

Your friend has just tagged you on a photo. Facebook sends these messages but does not show you the photo. They want you to go back to their platform to see it, hoping you will stay. We see this kind of luring through the film’s fictional scenes, interspersed with interviews, a typical family, and the impact of social media on them. During these scenes, viewers see three very young guys – replacements for artificial intelligence programs – working tirelessly to manipulate the behavior of a young college-aged man in the family, who has a crush on one. girl seeing someone else. The AI ​​guys ruthlessly follow his movements online and tempt him to keep up with the published activities of the girl he longs for. As frustrated as the AI ​​team is when they ignore notifications, they rejoice when they finally click on an ad they’ve placed in their feed. They are happy that it only cost them 3.2 cents for that advertising impression. Success!

Tide of danger

Almost everyone interviewed had seen their role in Big Tech as a force for good before, but once the proverbial genius was out of the bottle, it was impossible to stem the tide of danger: the growing and unchecked power of the world. Big Tech to control what you see and hear; its addictive nature and the resulting alienation and anxiety in many people; and the relentless monetization of each person by tracking their actions and manipulating what they see to generate desired responses, such as clicking ads. The three main goals of social media: engagement, growth (come back and invite friends), and advertising, are each powered by algorithms. (I don’t like the bombardment of ads I see for anti-aging cosmetic treatments.)

The film is a bit heavy, allowing almost no commentary on whether social media is a tool for good. People can make valuable connections online, enjoy rewarding, educational and entertaining content, promote causes, advertise small business, and teach all kinds of skills. Even organ donors can be found online. But this film was made to highlight how ignorant average individuals are about how Big Tech actually works, and how even the owners and rulers of the realm don’t know how to tame the beast.

Impact on Generation Z

Children born after 1996, often referred to as Gen Z, are the first children in history to graduate to college on social media. This generation is more anxious, fragile, depressed and insecure than previous generations. As older teens, they’re less likely to get a driver’s license or start dating.

A girl of around 10 or 11, the youngest in the fictional family, is shown to be completely unable to get away from her phone even at a family dinner. Breaking a glass bowl to grab her phone and escape with her phone to her bedroom, she immediately checks how many people admire her digitally “beautified” image on TikTok. Her smile turns to tears when another girl makes a mean comment about her. His expression becomes haunted.

Jonathan Haidt, PhD, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business and author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” was also interviewed. He noted the shocking increase in depression and anxiety among American teens, which began around 2011-2013. Until 2009, he said, the number of girls admitted each year to hospitals for mutilation or other self-harm activities was stable, then increased by 62% among girls aged 15 to 19 and by 189. % among girls aged 10-14. ‘Snapchat dysmorphism’ is the name used to describe this particular type of distorted self-image, in which young girls demand plastic surgery to look more like the images they see online in filtered selfies.

On children and social media, Harris noted, “We used to protect children. Some products were not allowed on Saturday morning children’s television shows. But YouTube for kids has no regulations, no protection. “

Many leaders in the tech industry have been educated at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, where they learn to become “behavior change geniuses,” according to an instructor at the lab. Persuasive technology has given birth to the field called “growth hacking” – infiltrating the psychology of people with the aim of manipulating behavior.

“We become the product. We are the commodity. We are the click bait “

Tristan Harris says Big Tech and social media operate on a “disinformation business model,” where everyone is left with their own facts. Did you know that Google provides different definitions of things depending on your interests and where you are looking on Google from? Because we end up seeing information that only reinforces our own opinions, we become hostile or even develop hatred for those who believe differently.

Set limits

Many of these former initiates fell prey to the systems they created. Tim Kendall, a former Facebook executive and former president of Pinterest, admitted he would come home and type emails in his pantry while his kids waited for his love and attention. “I thought 1,000 times to myself that I wouldn’t bring my phone to the room, then 9pm came by and I thought, so I’ll bring it to the room.” Now he and his wife don’t allow their kids to be on social media until they’re in high school.

Here’s how many of them deal with and limit social media in their lives:

Several have uninstalled all social media apps from their phones and turned off all notifications unrelated to anything important in their lives. A European tech expert no longer uses Google but the search engine Quant, which does not store data. We are careful not to choose a video recommended by YouTube. “You should always make the choice,” he said. A woman had to write her own software to cure herself of a Reddit addiction.

They also advise:

  • Check the facts before you share. If it’s designed to arouse your emotions, it probably is.
  • Get information from different sources. Follow people from different points of view.
  • Zealously protect young children from screen time.
  • No device in the room after a set time every night.
  • Budget time with the kids for screen time. Talk to them about it; they will often make reasonable suggestions.

Jaron Lanier, author of “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” and considered the “founding father” of virtual reality, was among the most vociferous about the destructive force of social media. He said, “It is the gradual and imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that is the product. There is nothing else on the table. If even a few people delete all of their social media accounts, it leaves room for conversation. Get rid of the stupid stuff. The world is beautiful.

The film hasn’t totally lost its sense of humor. At the end of the credits, the screen read: “Follow us on social media! I laugh.”

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