The Social Dilemma: A problematic film

Just started watching the The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I write this 25 minutes in and I can’t help but already point out some problems. Here are my quick initial thoughts (and I might write a longer blog about it once I finish watching and I can criticise properly).

First off, it’s entertaining to hear what tech companies do straight from their ex-employees. But that’s that. Did it scare you into using social media? That’s because the film has made the dilemma of social media too simplistic. They say: tech companies use psychology on users >>> people act on things without knowing based on this psychology. They make it seem like a simple cause and effect when it’s really not. There is no simple way to explain any individual’s behaviour or decision making process, even if these tech companies use psychology on us.

The field of study/inquiry isn’t new. It’s called media effects and there are many theories that have been developed to explain how mass media can influence attitudes and perceptions of the audience. The only problem we encounter with such theories is that it suggests audience members are passive consumers and that the audience will just act/behave based on the influence of these media without conscious thought. The truth is, humans act or behave or decide on certain things based on different things in our lives: friends, family, our past, our life experiences, education, etc.

To suggest that these tech companies play us like puppets and that we only act because of the psychology used on us is insulting. Yes, even if Cambridge Analytica sold and used our data to win elections for Trump and Duterte, the choices we made as voters weren’t only because we saw that one ad (or many ads) on Facebook. That may have an impact, yes, but it’s not the end all and be all of things. So we can ask, those who saw these ads and voted for Trump or Duterte, who are they? What values do they have? What community do they belong in? Etc etc.

So many things make up one person, more than their identity and behaviour on social media. So, what I’m trying to say is, don’t let the film scare you into using technology/social media. Yes, it has implications. Yes, they are using our personal data to try and skew election results and I agree it’s not ethical. But to address these problems we must look at different facets of society. The answer isn’t in social media alone.