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The Social Dilemma
By Elyse Sommer
You may not be letting off steam on Twitter like President Trump, seeing what your friends are up to on Facebook, or googling something or someone. But even if you're not addicted to tweeting self-promoting falsehoods, chances are that you're at least sometimes plugged in to some social network platform — probably more often so during the last six months.
A new documentary entitled The Social Media Dilemma probably won't make you exit from the social media world. However, if you're on a lot, you're likely to be more frugal about time spent there once you listen to the some of the best known social media platforms' former movers and shakers discuss why they left their high level jobs. In the interviews that dominate this 90 minutes take on the dangers of succumbing to pleasures of the connections and convenience that these social accounts offer.
That final word in the title sums up why all except one of the former tech world people interviewed still can't bring themselves to say "don't ever sign on for a social account" or "sign off immediately" if you have one. After all, they were excited to invest in or use their technical wizardry to help the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google to become indispensable to users and monetize what they did to do so. Being part of it all was so heady that only gradually did they realized the chilling downside — that their success at creating ever more sophisticated and money-yielding algorithms fostered addictive usage and imperiled privacy.
This being a documentary the interviewees are not actors. But they're not just expert talking heads but the actual people who were right there helping to make it all happen. What's more Jeff Orlowski has directed them to present their revelations about how these manipulative algorithms were developed in easy-to-understand language and as if they were actors in a fast-paced movie.
To take that movie-like feeling a step further Orlowski and co-writer s Davis Coombe and Vickie Curtis have added a narrative segment in which actors depict an invented family trying to untether themselves, especially their teen son, from excessive onscreen life. While this comes off as a too belabored effort to combine fact and fiction, it doesn't keep The Social Dilemma from coming off as a fascinating, authentic and well worth watching cautionary tale.
Scary as the sum total of all these eye-opening interviews are this is not as completely downbeat as it sounds. As these movers and shakers once believed their making it happen was well-intentioned, they still believe the damage could be undone. In the meantime viewers can protect themselves by limiting their time "friending" and "twittering" and not believing everything posted since the creepy but more than likely possibility is that it's a foreign power using the platform that you joined to enrich your life and human connections.
If Facebok seems to be the chief manipulator of its users to make billions of dollars, that's because the company and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have been most in the news. As The Social Dilemma makes clear Facebook is not the sole platform guilty of using their users to make billions of dollars; therefore, since the 2010 film about Facebook's origin is also available on Netflix — in fact, when you bring up The Social Dilemma the link for The Social Network appears right next to it. Thus, even readers who saw it before, will find it enlightening to see it now. In the light of its present history, it's clearer than ever that Facebook was never about using the internet to make a better, more humanly connected world. Zuckerberg used technology from the get-go to manipulate data of his fellow Harvard students and he himself came across as more isolated than more intimately connected. The film grossed a hefty $224 million dollars— a pittance when compared to Facebook's billions.
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The Social Dilemma
Directed by Jeff Orlowski
Written by Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis, Jeff Orlowski
Cast: Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward, Vincent Kartheiser, Tristan Harris, Sophia Hammons, plus interviewees playing themselves
Available for streaming on Netflix