The Social Dilemma review: An unnerving, unsettling but essential watch

The story

The docudrama puts the spotlight on how social media is primarily designed for becoming an addiction and abuses its users’ trust through data mining for profit. The movie highlights how these platforms facilitate misinformation decimation by politicians and propagandists about everything under the sun — be it the environment, COVID-19, or race relations, and the wrecking ball effect it has on the users’ mental health. It interweaves interviews of insiders directly or indirectly responsible for growth of these platforms, such as former Google design ethicist and Centre for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris and the co-creator of Facebook's like button Justin Rosenstein, with dramatisations about one family and its struggles with social media.

The Review

The Jeff Orlowski-directed documentary, which he co-wrote with Davis Coombe and Vickie Curtis, is a scarefest of the highest order — which may not necessarily be a bad thing if you ask me. Right from the beginning, several experts who have engineered social media since the time of its inception, admit that while it didn’t start off with an evil agenda, today for social media, “you are the product,” and “advertisers are the consumers”. They school us in the ways surveillance capitalism grooms us in this space and we happily spend an increasing number of our waking hours on it.

The insiders reveal how human psychology is being used on us users, and how manipulation, persuasive design and financial growth of these platforms is the grid we have become addicted to. Stock markets trade in all forms of futures; are you not just a little frightened at learning that these companies trade in human futures? I definitely AM!

The interviews and dramatisations display how we’ve been reduced to being lab rats, whose data is being framed not to find a cure for cancer or any similar deed, but to ensure the companies owning these platforms continue to stay in the black, every year with growing financials. If the prospect of being a lab rat is not damning enough, what would you say about your worldview being manipulated and channelled by feeds that are carefully calibrated only to forward the interests of the highest bidder for your attention? Our umbilical cord to the real world is being cut and a connection to a virtual make-belief world being established. It’s a reality that’s created by social media and we’re being brainwashed to believe that this is the only reality.

In the 2015 film ‘Focus’ there’s an instance when ‘con artist’ Will Smith explains to the aspiring femme fatale, Margot Robbie’s character how the mark or victim is programmed to pick the number 55, through subconscious conditioning and prompts though the entire day. Well, as per this film, that’s exactly what social media is doing relentlessly. And ‘The Social Dilemma’ explains basically how social media platforms are con artists and ‘We’ are the mark.

The docudrama ends on an optimistic note of hope of the change that needs to take place (that frankly I don’t see happening) and how social media can once again become a tool of positive change if the collective will so demands. And for that to happen, I guess, we have to remember what Micheal Jackson had sung:

“I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

Title: The Social Dilemma (English)

Platform: Netflix

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Writers: Jeff Orlowski, Davis Coombe and Vickie Curtis

Cast: Actors Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward, and Vincent Kartheiser, along with several experts who are interviewed

Runtime: 1 hr 29 minutes

(To download our E-paper please click here. The publishers permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

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