A new Netflix release on Sept. 9 of this year, “The Social Dilemma” addresses ethical and psychological issues with regard to the technological advancement of social media, and widely, the internet as a whole. Directed by Emmy award-winning Jeff Orlowski, of the 2012 “Chasing Ice” and 2017 “Chasing Coral” documentaries, “The Social Dilemma” pulls the viewer through the slow unraveling of society by pacing interviews with notable figures in the world of technology with a second narrative, where actors play out each dystopian chapter until the movies’ end at 1 hour, 34 minutes.
Pulling from credible sources such as Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google now co-founder of Center for Humane Technology, Tim Kendall, former Facebook executive, former Pinterest CEO and now CEO of Moment, and Jeff Seibert, former Twitter executive, this documentary sheds light on ethical foundational concerns of technological development, both unthought-of during its first stages and currently still unregulated regardless of the discussed attention for profit and disinformation for profit business models such technology runs on.
This documentary attempts to make connections between the regulation of internet platforms and other technological platforms such as phone, television and radio by analyzing how companies play to the weaknesses of human psychology through both subliminal messaging and advertisements, and data tracking and artificial intelligence formation, flipping the internet as a means of information supplied mainly by advertisers for companies’ usage and profiting off internet users and tailored information, instead of a direct platform-to-user environment. Orlowski notes that instead of regulating advertisements for children during regular Saturday morning cartoons, the internet offers no means of protection or ethical guidance, meaning everything goes, good or bad, leading to the rapid spread of misinformation, or the popular phrase, “fake news,” and polarization of both the media and opinions in real life through this third-party platform.
At some points, this film treads the line of being too intense between horror-movie sound effects and hyperbolic reenactments of social media use within scenes showing interactions between friends and family. Shot within a dystopian frame, this film will not leave viewers hopeful for the future, but instead questioning how they are currently being manipulated through rapidly evolving artificial intelligence. Just as much as this documentary is thought-provoking as it is emotionally draining, be prepared to take at least a few hours, if not a day to fully process the scope of this film, and lock your phone away for later use. These lingering after-tastes of the film may be why “The Social Dilemma” is rated so highly — it makes social media repulsive, doing exactly what the film calls for as one of the many solutions, making viewers rethink their entire perception of their online use. Congruent with these ratings, this documentary is an essential watch for all ages, putting in perspective the responsibility consumers and creators alike hold on the future of technology as a function of society.