The entire internet is now built for one reason. To catch your attention. In running this site, I’ve resisted for years adding ads to the site. But I’m trying to build a business which can bring more and more people the best tech news on a daily basis. So I caved. Unless you’re using an ad blocker, this page has ads. That’s because companies will pay to get in front of you. It’s a bit of an unfair battle given until I said that, you might not have even noticed what was happening. That’s why The Social Dilemma on Netflix is absolute must-watch TV for you, your family and your kids.

What Is The Social Dilemma?

Computers were born to be tools. Right back to the early calculators to more modern computers, technology was designed for us to be used as a tool. Something changed a couple of years back in a Harvard dorm room as Mark Zuckerberg began compiling code for The Facebook. A “the” later and one of the biggest platforms in the world has been at the core of international conflicts and question marks over how democratic democracy really is.

Technology’s promise to keep us connected has given rise to a host of unintended consequences that are catching up with us. If we can’t address our broken information ecosystem, we’ll never be able to address the challenges that plague humanity.

Social media platforms are growing faster than ever and when I say that I’m not talking about users. No, I’m talking about the algorithms and smart methods used to get you hooked on apps and platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more recently Tiktok. This is what our social dilemma is and this whole story is the core of Netflix’s new documentary of the same name.

So, I run a tech site and I view my job as keeping people like you in touch with what’s going on. As that’s the case, a lot of the stuff in this new documentary isn’t startling to me. I already knew it. However, it’s not been packaged up in this need hour and a half documentary filled with experts who have left high paying positions from the world’s biggest tech companies. Many of these people left on ethical grounds. One expert even tells of how he uses tools to avoid the very systems he himself helped to build.

From watching this documentary, it becomes real clear real fast. People who know a lot about the inner workings of these social media platforms are very worried about their power.

Is Social Media Evil?

Straight off the bat, social media isn’t evil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with cat videos or posting a birthday message on someone’s Facebook feed. Humanity has evil tendencies and where evil is given an opportunity it will thrive. Social media is one such breeding ground and that’s what The Social Dilemma sets out to make abundantly clear.

Does My Phone’s Microphone Listen To Me?

Take Facebook as an example. Facebook started out as a directory but then they hired someone to monetise the platform. He stared at it until he worked out how this thing makes money. The answer is obvious; it’s advertising. Now, I know you’ve thought about this. You’ve had a conversation about iPads with a friend and within a few hours, you’re seeing ads on Instagram for iPads. Must be your phone’s microphone listening in on you right?

Digital Marketing

I’ve worked in digital marketing and seen teams of people working out how best to target you with ads for shoes. Ads that follow you around the internet because you or people displaying very simiilar behaviour to you hit a certain score on a score card. This score suggests a high likelihood to purchase certain items at certain times from certain places. For advertisers, it’s money well spend. We’ll bid €1.20 to appear in front of this person because there’s 12% of people like you who buy €90 shoes. That efficient.

I’d even argue that to a certain extent, that’s not evil. That’s business. For some, they feel that they are been shown the ads they want to see so they can buy items them like.

If you started out being worried about Facebook listening into your conversations so they can advertise to you then I’m afraid there’s something much more worrying. Facebook doesn’t need to. The platform uses incredibly powerful algorithms to determine your influences and match to with other users on the platform and even in the real world by using your smartphone to ping other devices. With this information, they can build an incredible profile of who you are and predict what ads you’ll react to and in turn make them money.

Is this evil? For me, at worst, this is ethically unfair but probably not evil. But, as I said, people are evil.

Hack The Planet

Social media has been hacked by bad actors for personal or collective gain. Think Trump, Brexit, Brazil or convincing people not to vote at all in some elections, swinging numbers to minority interests. Here, social media becomes evil. Beyond these events, social media has another evil side to it. Instead of sitting idly by and waiting for an opportunity to advertise to you, through apps, notifications and an amazing understanding of human behaviour these new technologies are designed to hack the human psyche.

Have you ever noticed the impact a red notification dot has on your mind? The phantom pocket vibration as you hope for a message from someone you like? The shiver the message ding sends down your spine knowing someone wants to connect with you online? All of these characteristics of online platforms are designed to grab your attention and keep you on the platform for longer. The longer you stay, the more content you consume and the more likely you are to be of worth to advertisers.

The Social Dilemma: Worth The Watch?

Like I said at the outset, I’ve created a mini version of this. I write about tech to inform and to help people understand whats going on out there and what the best gadgets to buy are. I also knew you’d Google search about this documentary to see if it was worth your while giving it a watch. In doing so, I’ve created an opportunity where you might click and ad while you’re here and make some money.

But this documentary has another reason for me recommending it. This really should be essential viewing for everyone, of all ages and all experience online. This documentary is people who’ve built the world’s biggest tech platforms telling us that things are getting out of control and that we all need to take stock and, at the very least, we aware of how these platforms work.

Do I think you should watch The Social Dilemma? I don’t think we, as a society, can afford not to watch it. Recently, I’ve started to ask questions like “how are we arming kids to navigate a digital world” and I think we all need to start asking similar questions as adults assessing our own behaviour and exposure to media.

The Social Dilemma is streaming now on Netflix. Visit the movie’s website to learn more about their cause.

Bonus: Make A Stand

After watching The Social Dilemma, I was thinking about how we can all do our bit to try and fight back. To try an reclaim our own digital identity. Here are five things you can do right now to regain control.

  1. Turn off notifications. Use “Do Not Disturb Mode” on your phone so only calls get through to you. I’ve done this and felt great. I felt like I genuinely took back control over my time. Not having a constant ping of a tech company trying to grab my attention did my mental health wonders.
  2. Budget how much time you spend on social media. Delete apps from your phone so that when you spend time on something like Twitter, you need to be at your desk or similar. Force yourself to have greater control over your own time.
  3. Use an adblocker. I know there’s an irony here, but I would be happier knowing no one reaching this site ever sees ads because they’ve taken back control. You can use ad blockers to block lots of things beyond ads including tracking software too. Search engines like DuckDuckGo leave tracking at outside. They advertise based on the search query, not your behaviour.
  4. Buy an alarm clock. Use a proper alarm clock and leave your phone in the sitting room to charge at night. You don’t need the last and first thing you do in the day being targeted advertising.
  5. If you have kids, talk to them. Sit down together and watch this documentary. There’s nothing bad in here, just some hard truths. It’s not like watching a horror movie where Freddy is going to haunt their dreams. Instead, this is a piece of TV that will arm them with an understanding of how influence works.

Watch The Social Dilemma Trailer

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Martin is a massive tech fan, into movies and will talk about anything to anyone. - Find me on Mastodon