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30 Nov. 2041

Twenty-First Century Divide

The highly rated Netflix original documentary, The Social Dilemma, directed by Jeff Orlowski, sheds light on what is presented as the greatest threat to the modern world, social media. Now, this was not a highly anticipated piece of film prior to release, however, word-ofmouth made the documentary explode with views and popularity. The only real issue since the debut of the film is that some people think that the documentary is a touch too dramatic and believe that social media is not bad and the documentary over exaggerated the importance behind the message. While others maintain the idea that social media is bad and is causing real problems across not only America but the whole world. Although the documentary is slightly dramatic in the delivery, the overall message set fourth is that social media has created polarization, spread misinformation, created addiction, and created a new way of thinking which is that the user’s attention is the product, not the product itself.

Social Media was originally created with all good intentions. It was an idea that was built to bring people closer together even from a distance and allow everyone to connect even if you are online. Many of us that used social media from the very beginning would probably agree that it felt like that too! However, in recent years social media has come under major scrutiny for ethical reasons and how much social media really is involved in our personal lives even though we may not know it. Well, after The Social Dilemma was released in early 2020, it was clear that there was a massive divide between how the audience received the message. And this message summed up is, social media is bad and is controlling your life and the user is the target. Due to the message behind this film social media became even more scrutinized over what was portrayed by one side. On the other hand, the opposing crowd says that the documentary perceived social media in a dramatic manner and is completely exaggerating the extent to which social media has an influence on the personal lives of individuals. Although social media has created a divide and sold personal information for monetary gain, the documentary did dramatize the narrative to a great extent by creating these fictional characters that the documentary followed upon each topic of discussion. The program even went as far as to create fictional people that were supposed to be social media’s “algorithms” that would send people notifications, supply content that they were interested in, and sold the users data for ads. As

Polina Kroik describes in her rebuttal of the film, “This dramatization isn’t much better written and acted than the cautionary videos we’ve been shown at school, yet the young protagonists are sympathetic, and the simple narratives get the point across.” This did make the documentary feel slightly dramatic and took away from the serious message that the producers were trying to make but did get the overall intent across.

One of the main points the documentary tries to prove is that social media has created an addiction unlike any other. This addiction is fueled by a process called positive intermittent reinforcement. Positive intermittent reinforcement as described in the documentary can be shown with an example. Every time you pull down and refresh the page you are met with brand new content every time no matter how many times you do this. The production lay this out as a key reason for why social media becomes addicting to many people in modern society. Tristan Harris, who is an ex-Google employee who worked as a design ethicist and was also featured in the film explained it as the following. “When we check our phones hoping that we have a notification, it’s like we are pulling the lever of a slot machine hoping we hit the jackpot.” It is incredibly interesting that social media and such a basic function of it is being compared to the feeling of thrill that you get from a slot machine while gambling. However, the difference between the two is that you do not have to pay for one or worry about losing money, or do you? Perhaps one of the most important themes of this documentary is that we as the users are the product. The way it is explained is that because we do not pay for these products and services that social media provides and the advertisers are the ones paying for the services, then we as the users are the product. Tristan Harris again in the The Social Dilemma says this, “The classic saying is, if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” The main point that the producers are trying to get across from this is that these massive social media companies are competing for your attention because that is valuable to them. Nearly all social media platforms business model is revolved around advertisement, hence the companies selling a good or service pay the social platforms to be presented to you on your feed. Therefore, the user is seen as the product and not the platforms themselves.

In conclusion, the Netflix original documentary The Social Dilemma presents what are seen as many pressing issues with massive tech giants of today. The documentary lays out a plethora of reasons on why social media is destroying society. Overall, these issues are presented as misinformation, addiction, and monetary gain when the user is the product. However, there is an enormous divide between parties when deciding if the documentary displays an accurate picture of social media platforms and the negative effects they cause, or if there is just too much drama and it is all a hoax. You will have to decide for yourself.

Work Cited

Kroik, Polina. “Netflix's Social Dilemma Tells Us How Facebook Hacks Our Minds, but It Leaves out One Crucial Thing.” Medium, Digital Diplomacy, 7 Oct. 2020, https://medium.com/digital-diplomacy/netflixs-social-dilemma-tells-us-how-facebookhacks-our-minds-but-it-leaves-out-one-crucial-thing-8bad086c2670.

“3 Things We Learned about Social Media from Netflix's ‘The Social Dilemma.’” Blackstone LaunchPad, 2 Nov. 2020, https://launchpad.syr.edu/3-things-we-learned-about-socialmedia-from-netflixs-the-social-dilemma/.

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