Documentary Review: The Social Dilemma

By: Inso Park 

“The Social Dilemma” is a documentary directed by Jeff Orlowski that was recently released on Netflix. The film focuses on the effects of social media in an increasingly digital world. It highlights the negative aspects of social media and how it is becoming, or already has become, a plague to our society. Orlowski explores how large social media conglomerates have successfully instilled a sense of normalcy regarding online privacy breaches that all result in the creation of an addicting experience, seemingly impossible to escape. 

Throughout “The Social Dilemma”, remorseful executives of large media companies come forward and explain that social media addictions are intentionally nurtured by the leaders of the industry. They all express how human behavior is manipulated in order for  companies to profit off of their users. Specific algorithms aim to produce infinite scrolling and notifications to keep users engaged. Not to mention how personalized pages such as the Instagram explore page, TikTok “For You” page, and etc. are all created by tracking user data. Company knowledge of private information regarding different users turns them into easy targets for advertisers. 

Within the interviews of executives lie some of the most influential developers of social media such as the creator of the like button. Despite their positive intentions, they now fear the effects of their product and where it has led society. The interviewees voice concerns regarding the foundations of our society as well as the effects of social media on users’ mental and physical health. Expert testimonies from previous employees of large companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, all tell cautionary tales of social media and how much data users are unconsciously disclosing just from logging onto the platform. They all agree on how nerve wracking it is that managers of these large companies have the capability to practically control the lives of all their users. 

Although the social dilemma may not be a new concept, the documentary dives deeper into the problem by providing a scenario of a typical household in America. In the scenario, a functional suburban family faces the consequences of social media addiction and demonstrates how it affects our communication with others as well. The youngest daughter is obsessed with her online presence and received validation through social media. She learns about filters on pictures and quickly becomes unhappy with her own looks and body. The son learns about politics online and becomes an advocate for radical views. He attends a protest and has a run in with the law because of his political affiliations. The oldest daughter is the one who refuses to buy a smartphone, much less download social media. The family faces silent dinners and demonstrates how even when users are right next to each other the world of social media polarizes and isolates users. 

Despite the fact that the family in the documentary is fictional, too many users can identify with the family dynamics that were displayed. The family in the documentary exemplifies the ideas behind the limitations of social media and the scientific connection between the increase of mental illness and the usage of social media. 

In the grand scheme of things, “The Social Dilemma” serves to warn users against the dangers of social media and all of the biases that are present there. It is important to remember that although social media can be a great source of communication, users need to proceed with caution and be mindful of the invisible effects that social media holds.