I Just Watched Netflix's The Social Dilemma, Here's My Take On It


Please stop reading this if you have not watched The Social Dilemma as this contains spoiler.

One word to describe it: Fantastic!

I just watched it 1 hour ago!

Previously I have written a blog post on why your dating apps don't work.

And in that blog post, I have done the research and wrote about how the algorithm works in dating apps and how app designers are making its users not actually find love, but more importantly to stay in the app. In that post I only talk about dating app and that social media has a much bigger impact. And I have also talked about how society or culture is shaped, precisely in the way people date, in regards to the dating apps (because I talked only about dating app in that post).

When I wrote that post I have not watched The Social Dilemma but I already know how social media works and I know how we are the product. I am sure people who work in the tech industry know about this already. This is, I can say, common knowledge in the industry. However, there are still a lot of people who know the truth but still play along with it, including me. The reason can vary, such as "that's just the way to spread the word about our business" or "that's where the advertisement works best" or "my business prospects are there".

Anyways, let's get straight to the content!

I pretty much know generally how the social media works and I do notice how subtle they are in implementing new things. I can feel it more than UI level because as I mentioned UI is nothing much, the more important part is their algorithm. It's their secret sauce.

However, this movie opens up my eye a lot more because now I know a lot more about its impact. About how powerful it is.

Previously I was like "meh, no big deal! they can use my data, it's worthless anyway"

But in this movie now I know how each and every one of us, our data, is truly a gold mine. I now know a lot more about the power of people and their opinion.

I have to admit, I DID underestimate the power of people and their opinions.

I was also previously acting like "Eh, maybe I am being too much of a conspiracy theorist, maybe I overthink this whole thing". And I think at least some people out there think so, too. At some point, we tend to doubt ourselves because of the lack of supporting opinions and facts.

(I was in fact, lack of supporting facts because my knowledge comes from observation and watching comedies. I know, it's silly!)

I was slightly wobbly and I also DID underestimate myself and my own opinion.

But I am glad that I am no longer underestimating anyone.

I love the fact that this documentary actually interviews people that really dwell in that industry and knows exactly how these things work.

I mean that's how documentaries supposed to work, right?

Well, yeah. But some documentaries still feature people that are not the best source and have just opinions and theories so I really appreciate Netflix for collecting these experts for the viewers.

I hope this puts a big spotlight on social media companies and puts the power back into people. I hope this gets people talking. I hope this sparks conversation about social media. Really, people should be a lot more demanding of these companies. People should be more aware of how used and manipulated they are.

In this documentary, it is also explained how social media is not merely a tool that's sitting there and waiting to be used. A tool isn't designed to manipulate you and get you addicted.

Early September there is this article about the former Facebook employee that spotted global manipulation due to fake accounts. Back in 2018, Facebook CEO being held in court about the data breach and privacy matters. Furthermore, there are numerous claims from social media ex-employees about how just toxic social media is, for example, Chamath Palihapitiya.

These news articles (which I didn't see from Facebook) should scare you about what's more going on in social media. Yes, they sell ads. But that phrase is so vague and general it lacks meaning. This is the time to actually figure out how they sell ads and what they do with the money they earn by selling ads? Making a better algorithm? How better? I have so many questions.

"Well you used it, you signed up for it, so YOU are responsible for it!"

Ever heard these? I'm sure when you tried to warn people about the danger of social media you might get replies like this.

Sure we are partly responsible.

But this is not our full responsibility when the product is designed to manipulate and get you addicted. It is also not our full responsibility when it is designed difficult for us to see what data they accessing. It is also not our full responsibility when tech companies keep changing the code that we as users would never know what changed and for what reason.

Not to mention, the number of people not realizing what's beneath social media or knowing it but simply ignoring the facts. Social media had gained users so massive that it has shaped our way of socializing, interacting, and living. Humans are now presented with hard choices. Be on social media, or socializing in a hard way (because everyone else is looking at their phone).

The whole social media in general and their activity in collecting data is just not something fair and transparent that as a user, we kind of not having the freedom to choose.

Social media is not supposed to be toxic, it is was not designed with that intention but as I mentioned in my previous post, employees work for their company and what their company wants most of the time they have to do it, or someone else will do it. In the end, whatever the company vision is, it will turn into reality. The proof? The social media apps we have at the moment are the proof.

In this documentary, we get to see a person who introduced the Facebook Like and the person who made recommendations on Youtube. One of them said that they did not intend to make it to be this way, Facebook Like's initial idea is to spread positivity. And the other one mentioned how he doesn't even use Google anymore and how he is avoiding the algorithm he created.

Just to give you context, it is mentioned that some of the effects linked to social media are :

  1. Higher suicidal rate and depression

  2. An even more polarized opinion

  3. The fast spread of fake news and untruthful information (which sparks the theory of flat earth and pizzagate)

Credit : Netflix

Now, let's talk about the psychology of News Feed that makes me go "wow!" because I was just appalled by how well-played that UX is. I said it is well-played but not necessarily a good product or invention.

Basically, the idea to get you hooked is that every time you swipe down, the news feed refreshes. It is playing with our mind that is vulnerable to addiction. Just like how we play a slot machine, we pull the lever, and we may or may not win something, in the news feed, we swipe down on the top of the page and we may or may not see contents we like. Doesn't it sound a lot like the slot machine?

The goal of these social media companies is to just keep you on the page, stay on the page.

But the more you stay on the page the more you are not on the real-life, which is probably what most people overlook.

I think The Social Dilemma makes me realize how hooked I am and how addicted I am with my social media accounts. There is this scene where Ben (the fictional character portrayed in this documentary) has to not use his phone for a week so that his shattered phone screen can get fixed. The way I see it he is like a drug abuser who has not to consume his drug for some time. And that is exactly how I am too without social media or without my phone.

This documentary can make us question ourselves :

"Do you ever realize what do you do without your social media?"

"Do you ever realize how your phone is always around you?"

"Do you ever realize how quickly you react to a notification?"

"Do you ever realize how digital most of our interactions are?"

Credit : Netflix

I love also the part where Mark Zuckerberg answers in doubt when being asked if his products were involved in the 2016 election. I don't know, these are the small bits and pieces that make this documentary just *chef's kiss*

But something I probably wanted to highlight is that the social media users are making it worse by supporting this heavily because some of them just want the share of the pie. Video creators are making videos that make you click and watch. Some news companies are making click-bait articles. Even regular users are making engaging posts that make you stay.

Ever seen those Facebook videos that have the text on top that says "HER REACTION IS SHOCKING!" or "YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS" so you patiently watch the video till the end? Or if you are male and you are on Instagram, you ever see girls posting sexy pictures so that you would "Love" it and follow them and keep coming back to Instagram for more of their pictures?

Example of Facebook videos that has text on top to make you stay and watch.

Most people overlooked the "Suggested for You" label on top.

All they want is merely some money from ads, some likes, or maybe just some followers. But unknowingly, these creators are supporting the platforms by sharing content that people would get hooked on, which makes people stay on social media platforms which is exactly the social media companies' ultimate goal.

Can we also appreciate the fact that this documentary makes it a lot easier to explain to the public how the algorithm works with those dramatized scenes of selecting what should appear in Ben's news feed? Because we can present facts, but when it is presented in a way that is hard to understand, the message would be hard to come across. So I love how they make it easy.

Credit : Netflix

At the end of the documentary, it is mentioned how to solve this problem. It is very hard to convince everybody to delete their social media account but even a few people who do that can really make a difference. And one of them mentioned how you can beat the algorithm by going against their recommendation such as follow people you disagree with on Twitter or not click the recommendation in your YouTube feed. Well, you can find out more about how to beat the social media game in that documentary, just watch until the end.

it is also funny how Netflix themselves are using some of the design tricks social media used to get their users to stay on the platform.

So that is my review on The Social Dilemma. Truly well-done awakening content.

Do you think it is now time to delete your social media account?


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