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The gift and the curse of The Social Dilemma

I joined Facebook when I was 13 years old.

A bit too young, in my present opinion. I posted things I probably shouldn’t have – my old content is mostly embarrassing, but some of it is, by today’s standards, problematic. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.

Quickly after Facebook I joined the various other social media platforms popular among we teens of the 2010’s – Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. While I pretended it didn’t dominate my life, that I was aloof to it all, it certainly, psychologically did.

It felt mature, like I was giving my friends some unique insight on a life they were surely interested in. Like I was connected in a way I never had been before.

You would have been hard-pressed to get me to admit it at the time, but it was definitely for the attention. I wanted the likes, the comments, the engagement – in a way that I did not crave in-person.

Netflix’s latest documentary, The Social Dilemma, explores the positive and negative nature of social media and the unprecedented impact it has had on entire generations. Featuring interviews with tech experts and ethicists interspersed with a dramatized narrative, the film highlights why the creators of some of the most engaging social platforms don’t allow their own children to have online accounts.

Director Jeff Orlowski places a focus on how social media users are the main factor in a site’s financial gain – through surveillance capitalism and data mining, algorithms have perfected the trick that keeps us scrolling and buying.

What is most jarring about the documentary are the testimonies of said experts and scholars with direct knowledge of how social media works and is designed. They speak on several subjects, including its role in politics, effect on mental health (particularly that of younger people and rising teen suicide rates) and how it can be used to popularize conspiracy theories.

The editing was clean, and the message was clear. The documentary never seemed to talk down to viewers, as most anti-social media films do – it merely illuminates a problem that is easier to ignore.

With current events being what they are, and the powers that be weaponizing our connectivity and divisiveness against us, The Social Dilemma could not be more relevant than it is right now. Recognizing what social media is, and how quickly it has transformed, may be just what we need to regroup and consider long term implications.

I actually deleted the last of my social media accounts a little over one year ago. As the fervor of the nation grew within it, and became more and more divisive, my mental health was drained.

Now, in the last year, when I meet someone, there’s a new power I hold – one that the likes and comments would never afford me. Knowing that no one can find my presence online, that they are unable to learn about my thoughts and spending habits and preferences, grants a liberating private relief the teenager in me should have been afforded.


Film: The Social Dilemma
Year: 2020
Genre: Documentary, Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned, Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13) for some thematic elements, disturbing/violent images and suggestive material
Currently available to watch/stream on Netflix
Directed by Jeff Orlowski
Written by Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis and Jeff Orlowski

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