Some thoughts on “The Social Dilemma”

An interesting look at a problem we're already aware of, but do nothing about.

Last night I sat down to watch Netflix’s new documentary “The Social Dilemma“. The hour and half long film showcases a series of execs and investors from some of the Western world’s largest social media players revealing just how deep the rabbit hole goes in what the like of Twitter, Facebook & Google know about you. At the end of the day though, it revealed nothing that I didn’t already know.

The documentary is presented in a hybrid format with interviews of some of the rebellious tech elite standing against their former employers combined with a hypothetical story complete with 24 year old actor playing a 16 year old boy and a fallen from grace “Pete” from Mad Men as the social network’s engagement-driven algorithm.

The film is designed to bring an awareness to the masses that in their everyday use of social media you hand over more and more information about yourself to effectively turn the “user” into the product then sold.

It does will to highlight how they go about this, detailing how every interaction we perform online is tracked. From how long you view a video for, to how long you hover over an item in your Instagram feed before flicking onto the next. The idea being to build an engagement vortex that keeps your attention as long possible and more importantly, best serve the ads you’ll most likely engage with along the way.

“If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Nothing of this is new, nothing about it will likely shock anyone reading this blog, but the film does highlight just how scary the depths these algorithms operate in order to retain user engagement and how this leads to the proliferation of “fake news” and the rise of falsely based conspiracy theories.

Cleverly it explains the Russian “hack” of the 2016 US elections wasn’t a hack at all. They were using the same tools and systems that anyone could buy (and still can) from Facebook to help spread disinformation across social media ultimately leading to horrific incidents such as #pizzagate.

I also like how they talk to the fact a lot of these networks have also done good, albeit mostly in their infancy when timelines showed in chronological order for example. They’re also aware of the fact even though they’re calling out for a deeper transparency and governance over the data collection and tactics used, they admit to still using sad apps and platforms still to varying degrees.

While worth the watch, I feel most here may find it a little hammy and definitely long hitting the same point repeatedly. But for those with kids or family members not so familiar with big-tech it could provide a gateway into a deeper thinking on how they might approach social media in the future.

Let me finish by saying Netflix is a part of the problem. The fact they bought a documentary to serve on their platform doesn’t make them the good guys. Just like social media their business is knowing what you want to watch and that irony certainly isn’t lost on you when the credits begin to roll and up pops three recommendations on what I might like to watch next.

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

Founded by James Croft, along with Peter Wells and Anthony Agius they created what would go on to become one of Australia’s most highly regarded and award winning independent tech blogs.

With its uniquely Australian voice Reckoner is committed to offering a “no-holds-barred” approach to its writing. Beholden to no one but its audience. Reckoner’s goal is to remain completely transparent and honour the trust it’s built with its faithful readership.

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