You may remember the feature film The Social Network, which came out in 2010 and told the story of the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg. It seemed to glamorize the genesis of this social media behemoth.
Fast forward to 2020. At about the same time as the U.S. Congress was holding hearings with the CEOs of Facebook, Google (Alphabet), and Twitter—exploring their near domination of the social media world, including accusations of influencing political elections and manipulation—comes a full-length documentary called The Social Dilemma. This film features a look behind the curtains of Facebook and all social media platforms. What a difference a decade has made!
I first learned about this Netflix documentary through my friend Laurie David, who was one of the executive producers of the film. You may recognize her name, as she also produced An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 (the first film exposing and warning us about global warming and climate change) and she teamed up with news anchor Katie Couric to produce Fed Up, about the causes of obesity in the United States. Laurie clearly is passionate about educating and opening the eyes of consumers to societal and global challenges. And when Laurie speaks, or is involved in a cause, people listen.
I felt so fortunate to have been invited to a Zoom session last week that Laurie hosted featuring The Social Dilemma’s director, Jeff Orlowski and Tristan Harris (featured prominently in the documentary). We were all asked to watch the film before the session.
So, a few weeks ago, Jack and I opened our Netflix account and launched The Social Dilemma. That’s after we had both spent time that evening doing what we always do after dinner: holding our smart phones and checking our Facebook feed, Instagram stories and connections through LinkedIn. Frankly, I didn’t exactly know what the documentary was about, but Laurie and another friend Miriam both told me it would change my view of social media. So, we set our iPhones down on the table and tuned in.
Do you ever wonder why you get certain emails letting you know that someone tagged you on Facebook? Are you someone who can’t wake up or go to sleep without first checking your Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest feed just one more time? Do you find yourself feeling strangely addicted to scrolling through posts, spending minutes and sometimes hours a day doing so? There is evidence presented in the film on why you feel that way! And it’s not a pretty story.
The essence of the film presents real-life examples of the purposeful, manipulative effects of social media. They show a young teen girl who posted a selfie. Someone commented on the size of her ears, and you could see her ease into a depressive state. Another young man received (unsolicited and ongoing) targeted Facebook posts featuring ongoing messages of hate, paranoia and racism—so much so, that he felt compelled to attend a local rally and ended up being arrested. (The scary thing is, he was in disbelief about what had happened, as he didn’t realize how he ended up going to it.)
The film was eye-opening in terms of how much social media channels like Facebook, etc., know about you, manipulate you and eventually can impact your beliefs and behaviors. They interviewed dozens of people for the film who formerly worked for firms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Google, plus educators and researchers from prestigious universities like Harvard, along with social psychologists.
If you are a parent or grandparent, I highly, highly recommend you watch the film. Even better, watch it with your kids and grandkids. Have a conversation about addictive behavior and social media.
Thirty-six-year-old forward-thinker Tristan Harris is considered the conscience of Silicon Valley. He is president and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. Earlier, he worked as a design ethicist at Google and received a degree from Stanford University where he studied the ethics of human persuasion. He has given two TED talks. You can check them out [Here]—it will really get you thinking. He was one of the people featured in the film and it was amazing to hear his candid insights and thoughts “live” in addition to having seen him in the film.
The 37-year-old producer Jeff Orlowski, who directed and produced the film, actually referred to the effects of social media manipulation as “the climate change of culture.” He has produced other films, including the Emmy-award winning documentary Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral (about the effects of climate change).
So, if you’re wondering if my thoughts are just one lone opinion, it might be reassuring to know that The Social Dilemma was the #1 most viewed film on Netflix in September 2020 and the #2 viewed film of all time! Clearly there is something significantly eye-opening and worthwhile about this film.
Click here to watch the movie trailer: Social Dilemma Trailer
I hope you will watch the trailer and then the film. I would love to know what you think about the damaging societal impact of social media and what changes you are going to make in your behavior.
By the way, both Jeff and Tristan were highly positive and optimistic about the future and feel that openly sharing information about current social media will wake people up and will force change that will produce a healthier society. That made me feel very optimistic and happy!
P.S. Today is National Day of Unplugging. This awareness campaign elevates the human connection by promoting a 24-hour break from technology to inspire healthy living and tech balance. Will you accept the challenge?