The Social Dilemma

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Sophia Hammons as Isla in The Social Dilemma.
Sophia Hammons as Isla in The Social Dilemma.
Photo: Exposure Labs/Netflix


The Social Dilemma




3/5 Stars


Described by Netflix as a "documentary-drama hybrid", The Social Dilemma sees tech experts who were once employed at companies like Google, Facebook and Instagram, sound the alarm on some of their own social networking creations to reveal the way users' behaviours are being modified, and the dangerous consequences behind this.


It was a Sunday afternoon when my phone started buzzing incessantly. My friend, in a stream of texts, recommended that I watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. 

Not one to pass up a good documentary, I made a mental note and promised to give it a go. The sense of urgency that accompanied her messages piqued my interest even more. Describing the film as "powerful", she swore she would rid herself of all social networking apps. Less than an hour later, my neighbour made the same bold statements. "Okay, now I HAVE to watch this," I thought.

Social media has a hold on many of us, whether we'd like to admit it or not. Think about this. How many times have you picked up your phone to scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or even WhatsApp in the last hour or two? I'm willing to bet it's more than you realise. 

Cellphones and the apps that come with them are addictive; this information is not new to us. So why were my friends so enthralled by the documentary? 

Perhaps it's because now they got to peek behind the curtain.

The Social Dilemma sees former top employees from the world's largest companies, including Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Instagram, speak openly about the way these corporations have been controlling our every move. 

Sit down interviews with experts who once held powerful positions within these organisations, reveal just how much thought goes into luring users onto social networking platforms and keeping them there for an extended period. 

Here's an example: You know that random notification you get when a friend you haven't heard from in a while shares a post that has absolutely nothing to do with you? It turns out it's not so random after all. Instead, it's a ploy devised to draw you back online if you've been away for too long. 

Or what about those messages that pop up to remind you about your friends' birthdays? Okay, I'll admit, they've saved me on several occasions. But is it Facebook's way of helping me avoid an awkward situation with a friend, or has the social media network figured out a sure way of grabbing my attention? 

My friend's concern was warranted - once you delve deeper into the world of "persuasive technology" and how it is used to "modify" human behaviour, there's a sense of fear that begins to creep in. 

Of course, the ominous music used throughout the documentary adds to any shock or anxiety you may feel. Then there are the dramatic movie scenes sprinkled in between, depicting the negative consequences of social media - just to really drive the message home.

I ended up watching the documentary over two days. But let's just chalk that one up to my incredibly short attention span and not the fact that I felt the film could have been cut down just a bit. 

So, was I hooked? Not really. But perhaps that's because I was already aware of the threat posed by social media after reading numerous articles on its addictive nature.

Was I shocked by any of the revelations? Of course. I've been rolling my eyes at every Facebook notification I've received since watching this film. Yeah, that's right, I'm onto you.

It's definitely an eye-opener, and worth the watch if you want to know the truth about the way in which social networking sites operate. 


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