“The Social Dilemma”

To be raised in a digital era surrounded by an abundant amount of Social Media applications sounds like a wonderful opportunity to open doors to endless possibilities. Social Media is such a complex topic to grasp and it is difficult to understand all the positives as well as negatives linked to this technology. It seems for every positive we can identify related to Social Media, there is most definitely a negative associated with this technology (if not more…). The documentary entitled “The Social Dilemma” features different interviews with different individuals who pioneered various social media platforms (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.) and explains how something that was meant to be used to connect people, turned into something dangerous with many negative repercussions.

First of all, I do think Social Media started off with the purpose to unite and connect people. I do feel that the original goal when many of these programs and applications were created was to find ways to connect individuals and give them access to information in an efficient manner. If I think back to Facebook when I first started my account, I remember we were just really excited to have the opportunity to connect with friends and family back in South America. It was nice to be able to share pictures and be kept in the loop with how everyone was doing. It was also lovely to be able to message and comment on each other’s posts and reconnect with people we had lost touch with. It was wonderful to be able to communicate with each other even though we were so far away and to feel like we were connected even when we could not be together physically. Getting to frequently “talk/chat” to cousins and friends I had not seen in over a decade was heartwarming. Additionally, I do recall enjoying Pinterest as well and finding it incredibly useful when I first started my account. There were endless teaching resources that could be found on Pinterest and that was so helpful back when I was an intern (and many of these teaching resources were free). I also enjoyed the convenience of having access to recipes, décor ideas, and pretty much anything you could use for inspiration right at my digital fingertips. There are some pretty amazing things we can accomplish through the use of Social Media and I do not think anyone is trying to negate that.

However, somewhere along the way, I believe the original purpose of Social Media took a detour where we started focussing on using these means of communication for the personal gain of corporations and realized that they could be utilized as manipulation tools. An interesting perspective to consider is how these Social Media applications make money if they are “free” to join. No one is going to create an application without expecting some kind of compensation for their work. So let’s take Facebook for example – where does Facebook make money? “Despite having over two billion users on its platform, Facebook doesn’t actually make any money on content or directly through its user base. Instead, it makes billions via digital advertising, as Facebook has something that companies really want – access to billions of people around the globe who might buy their products or services” (O’Connell, 2018). Throughout the documentary, we explore how digital advertising has taken control over various Social Media apps and it controls the information “users” have access to. All these different apps are competing for our attention and trying to keep us engaged and locked into our screens. “The Social Dilemma” explains how everything we are doing while logged in to these apps is being monitored and tracked (and sometimes we do not even need to be logged on to be tracked and monitored) – which is frightening. For example, a while back my friends and I were having a conversation about traveling to Europe and once we opened Facebook, numerous advertisements started popping up relating to flights, resorts, and famous sites to see in Europe. We never searched this, but just having our phones out allowed our information to be monitored and tracked. The same goes for YouTube – when we have family dinners we will talk about music artists we like for example (or do not like) and then whomever we were talking about will show up on the search engine and various videos/playlists of these artists will just pop up without being searched. That whole concept is simply terrifying to me. Furthermore, “The Social Dilemma” explains how technology companies have three main goals: “1) the engagement goal, to drive up your usage to keep you scrolling; 2) the growth goal, to keep you coming back and inviting more friends and getting them to invite more friends; 3) and then there’s the advertising goal, to make sure that as all of that’s happening we’re making as much money as possible from advertising. These main goals are very problematic and troublesome because these technology companies are only concerned with attaining these production goals and they are not all concerned at all with the repercussions linked to achieving their objectives.

Social Media has had many implications when it comes to children and society. One of the most concerning issues that “The Social Dilemma” presented was about the correlation between Social Media and addiction. During a scene where a family is trying to have dinner without having access to their phones, we see how some people are not able to be without their phones for small amounts of time. There is this need to have access to our phones and to stay connected to Social Media so we do not miss anything. This can be perceived as problematic because Social Media is taking people away from being present in the moment and enjoying what is in front of them because they are so preoccupied with what is taking place somewhere else. I have many friends and family who are unable to disconnect when we are out for dinner or coffee. I sometimes find myself aimlessly scrolling through Instagram during my downtime or the urge to have my phone out while watching a show is there. I do have a strict rule about putting my phone away when I am with friends or family because I want to be present and enjoy my time with them. But, we do see people becoming more and more dependent on their phones nowadays– especially in teens. I found it interesting when the “like” button was addressed in the documentary as well because it does resonate with the reality we are currently experiencing. We see people obsessing over the amount of “likes” their posts or pictures receive and we do notice depressing tendencies manifesting in teens (and even adults) when they do not receive enough “likes”. These obsessive tendencies linked to the number of “likes” or the number of “followers/friends” people have on Social Media do resemble the behaviour of addiction. If we do not address these current issues regarding Social Media and continue to turn a blind eye to a problem we know exists, we risk reaching a point where we could be too far gone to fix and come back from.

One of the first quotes we are met with in this documentary states that “nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse – Sophocles”.  I think it is fitting for the topic being discussed seeing as everything can have both a good side and a bad side. “Every creation, invention or object can be used wholesomely and with good intent or used [as a] manipulative [tool] or to purposefully cause harm”. It is crucial that we fully understand the power Social Media holds and come to terms with all the dangers that accompany this new technology so that we can proceed with caution when engaging with it.

One Comment

  • Shivali .

    Thanks, Valeska for sharing your blog post. I really like your point of view. social media makes our life easy. we can communicate with friends and family members and children can get a lot of information from social networking websites but I totally agree with you people mostly depend upon phones and they spend most of their time on the phones and it may affect their health and mind

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