The Social Dilemma exposes the truth of social media companies

Netflix's new show

Jiayu Zhan

Netflix’s new show “The Social Dilemma” exposes the truth behind social media companies.

Faizan Azhar, Assistant Web Manager

In Netflix’s latest hit documentary, The Social Dilemma, Director Jeff Orlowski opens the viewers eyes to the truth by exposing social media companies and instills trepidation through a dystopian story which reflects reality. 

The truth of how social media companies manipulate us is revealed through a series of interviews with the social media elite and a hyperbolized satire. This documentary unveils how these companies exploit human psychology in order to predict our every move by tapping into the subliminal psyche. They production also dives deeper into more visible impacts of social media such as depression and anxiety, leading to increased suicide rates. 

Notable figures such as Tim Kendall, former executive at Facebook and former president of Pinterest, present themselves as interviewees. These elite members of the social media coterie reveal a truth through a plethora of remarkable statements which are essentially wrapped up in, “If you’re not paying for the product you are the product.” 

Edward Tufte, professor of political science, computer science and statistics at Yale university, discusses how the mere label put on us by social media companies, ironically, denotes a danger. 

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software,” Tufte said. 

This hints at the addictive nature of social media which is further emphasized in the acting of a teenage boy and younger girl in the satire who cannot go through even a family dinner without feeling the need to check their devices.

This documentary serves as a warning, preluding a conjecture that threatens the sovereignty and peace of our nation and of our world.”

It is clear through these interviews that we have become the product, more precisely, the change in the way we think has become the product. While many of us know social media companies use our data to predict our moves and preferences evident in the “recommended” page, or a variation of this which is present in nearly all platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. 

The extent to which we are being manipulated, however, is a profound revelation which makes this documentary dive deeper, under the surface level investigative conjectures which are widely known.  

The main goal of these companies, as discussed in the documentary, is to create subliminal stimuli that make us into their puppets, programming us to do things without our slightest knowledge. This is extremely important as it is the first time in history when virtual concoctions create real world implications. By feeding us information which alters the way in which we think and act, social media has created a dangerous almost dystopian reality. 

Subliminal perception is the integration of thoughts into our brains without us noticing. This psychological method is widely used in the advertising industry in the form of subliminal messaging. Many countries have banned the use of this marketing tactic, which inserts brand-related images into movies and embedded hidden messages into ads, however the U.S. is not on this list.

The documentary dives deeper into the specifics of these real world implications, citing instances when the use of social media destabilized whole countries and conspiracy theories led to dangerous acts like in the case of PizzaGate. In the case of PizzaGate, there was a conspiracy theory that several high ranking members of the democratic party held a human trafficking ring using a pizza shop in Washington D.C. as a cover.

Fake news such as this travels five times faster than it did before the invention of social media and these examples shed light on the extent of influence social media has on our world and makes us aware of how we may be manipulated, hence taking us out of our trance.

Orlowski also uncovers the divide social media is causing in our world and more specifically our country. We can see this divide clear in the current political climate. Democratic and Republican supporters in our country are the most split they have been since the formation of the Democratic party in the political divide of 1860. The documentary describes the reasoning behind why this is the case and uncovers how simple things such as search results differ so greatly based on your geographical location. 

The fact is that individuals searching the same question in California, for example, will receive different search results than those in Florida. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is partly because of this that people have such great support for one candidate with such great dissent for the other. These people receive positive search suggestions for the popular candidate in their geographic location while receiving constant negative suggestions for the other.

The documentary also brings light to the increase in suicide and depression found in teenagers and strongly correlates it with the wide distribution and usage of social media apps. The addictive and harmful nature of these apps is clearly demonstrated in the satire that is intertwined in the documentary. 

This satire dives into a story with a girl who posts a selfie on a social media platform and receives hateful comments. In a drastic change in mood, the girl is shattered by these comments and begins to hate how she looks. This situation plays out to exemplify the toll social media takes on the young generation. 

Harvard professor and social psychologist Shoshana Zaboff wraps up the central dogma of the documentary in a single, impactful statement.

“Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.” Zaboff said. 

Together, this documentary serves as a warning, preluding a conjecture that threatens the sovereignty and peace of our nation and of our world. Taking the time to watch this documentary is the first step in opening our eyes to the path our world is taking. A path in which experts from within these companies themselves predict, if continued, may lead to the end of our world. Is this just another information transition such as the print revolution, or is this something bigger?