Netflix’s documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” warns of societal doom because of social media, but professor Ismael Lopez Medel shares a more balanced approach.
Netflix’s documentary “The Social Dilemma,” explores the dangers of social media and is complete with former Google and Facebook executives and staffers. These professionals come together to warn society about the deeply rooted problems social media has created.
Early in the documentary, Tristan Harris, Google Design Ethicist, warns, “…we’ve moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation based technology environment.”
This grim reality is often highlighted in the documentary. With a black and grey gradient on the screen, Edward Tufte’s words appear: “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”
Former President of Facebook Sean Parker explains how such a practice exploits its individuals. This exploitation occurs because of how well developed the software is becoming. Algorithms are getting so advanced they can predict moods and get people addicted. This ties into the problem of big tech companies in California, as they have created the tools that have addicted millions, if not billions, of human beings.
The documentary goes on to show graphs related to increasing preteen mental health issues.
Outside research also proves this true. Since social media appeared, depression rates for 12 to 13-year-olds have increased by 47 percent. For 18 to 21-year-olds, depression rates have increased by 46 percent, according to Time.
Through the various themes above and dramatic effects, “The Social Dilemma” feels as though it should be called “The Social Doom.” However, Ismael Lopez Medel, public relations and social media professor at Azusa Pacific University, takes a more balanced approach to the negative narrative.
“I don’t think the idea of the filmmakers was to portray a balanced view of the positives and negatives,” said Medel. “They want to present a scary, dark reality.”
However, Medel admits that, “ [we] need to realize that all social media platforms are now working to satisfy the advertisers. They are not helping [us] connect, or share [our lives], or stay in touch with people. They are designed to keep [us] connected and hooked.
Medel continues by saying he wishes the producers would have focused more on the solutions, as interviewees only get the chance to develop possible solutions while the credits roll on the right side of the screen.
Perhaps the documentary intentionally showcased the downsides of social media because each day we experience the upsides. Each day we have the chance to Facetime family, interact with friends on social media and receive the rush of dopamine.
Medel also provided practical advice to help individuals understand if they are using social media well.
First, he explained we must constantly ask ourselves the tough questions.
“Let’s analyze why we engage with social media platforms and ask ourselves what is our purpose?” said Medel. “Am I portraying an honest picture of my life, or am I pretending to live a different life? [Are you coveting] things you don’t have? How can I be an ethical consumer in the midst of the manipulation?”
If individuals have good answers for those questions, Medel said, then they are doing it well. If they don’t then “maybe it’s time to scale down.”