The Social Dilemma: Why Social Media Isn’t Really The Problem

If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma then you might have a new found fear + anxiety surrounding social media + the evil forces at work within the tech industry. As a social media obsessed person + an advocate for all things new tech – I wasn’t exactly impressed by the movie. Instead, I found myself rolling my eyes at overly dramatic skits + manipulative representations of how technology interacts with us. Let me tell you why The Social Dilemma is hypocritical + is just as scary as the picture it paints of social media.

Before I get ahead of myself – the movie points out some incredibly valid concerns + I don’t want to completely discredit everything that was presented. We’ll cover those below, but to clear the air – I’m not a total hater. Before we get to those concerning acknowledgements though, let’s explore the bias + emotional manipulation utilized by the producers of the documentary – just so we’re all on the same page here.

A major theme throughout the documentary is being controlled + influenced by those within the tech industry, especially within the social media world. But what exactly are these manipulation tactics that these tech giants are using? If we take a trip down memory lane to high school literature classrooms, you might remember persuasive language + techniques – tactics used to persuade the audience in the direction we want them to go. These things include emotive words, tone, ethos, pathos, logos, selective examples, + the list goes on. 

In a visual example, these also include elements like lighting, music, + dialogue – much like the dark, spooky elements included in The Social Dilemma. It’s important to note that almost ALL media has a “bias” or “goal” to influence the audience in some way – even I have a goal with this blog post! The point is to push the audience in a direction that you want them to go in + this is no different for the producers of The Social Dilemma. If you have the time, try to watch The Social Dilemma again + take note of all the elements that might be influencing you to be afraid + see if you’re truly worried about what they’re saying or if it’s just the dark, ominous scenario to represent how AI works. Which, for the record, is not really like a room of three nefarious men constantly vying for your attention, happiness, + money like you’re a voodoo doll.

If you still find yourself worried about addiction + apocalypse level damage caused by social media, keep reading! 

I broke down the movie into four main parts:

#1] Addiction

#2] Opinion Bubbles

#3] Violence 

#4] Sustainable Solutions

I think we can all agree that there is, without a doubt, an element to social media that is addicting. I’m not here to deny that. I am here, however, to point out that PLENTY of things are addicting for certain individuals that may not be for others. For example: alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise + food even – possible addiction doesn’t make these things blatantly bad, it just makes them things we need to be aware of. If you believe you are addicted to your phone + social media – seek help! Try different tactics to have a healthier relationship with social media for YOU. Take some ownership + understand that what might be a bad relationship for you, might be a healthy one for someone else.

If you find yourself annoyed with others for always being on their phones + not being active participants of the conversation – ask yourself if there’s actually anything of interest happening. Personally, I am not on my phone when I’m with my friends + we are actively engaging in conversation + having a good time. If I’m with family members as they talk about something I have absolutely no interest in + they aren’t attempting to include me in the conversation, then I’m most likely going to seek out social relief on my phone with people I actually want to speak with. Social media + phones don’t remove us from situations – they give us a way to do things we’d rather be doing instead.

Opinion bubbles are when AI works to show you only content + news from people you agree with + you start to accept your opinions as the only truths because you only ever see content that confirms your beliefs. Now, the movie spins this as an evil plan to get you to have opinions the tech industry wants you to have. On the flip side – AI is showing you things that it perceives you like + would be interested in. This works great when my Instagram ads are about leggings + makeup brands instead of dentures + men’s golf clothing – but it does has a negative affect when all I see are people who agree with me. 

As a reminder – you are not a mindless robot + you are not at the mercy of others just for being exposed to information that’s presented to you. Be skeptical, recognize everything has bias, don’t accept everything you see as truth. I also encourage you to seek out + follow those who have different opinions than you – get used to listening to + trying to understand other people instead of writing them off for not believing what you believe. Most importantly – STOP PARTICIPATING IN CANCEL CULTURE!

Cancel culture is, + I mean this sincerely, absolutely horrible + not beneficial for anyone. The world is most often varying shades of gray, not black + white. It is easy to pretend like people can be put into good or bad boxes but the reality is that we all can be genuinely good while also behaving poorly in ways that can hurt others. Think about the amount of times you have personally written someone off for saying, doing, or believing something you don’t agree with. Now think about how often someone has developed a negative feeling or opinion of you for one or two interactions, when you know that, overall, you’re probably a pretty cool person. Don’t shut out people who are different from you – engage in dialogue + try to understand them. You’ll both come out being better people for it.

So what about when opinion bubbles become so aggressive that it ends in physical behaviors?

In the movie, the topic of Pizzagate is brought up as an example of what can happen when misinformation + paranoia is perpetuated by social media – noting that social media is the cause for these negative outcomes. I would like to propose that this is a normal thing that human beings have always done, with or without social media. Skeptical? Good — that’s what I want you to be! 

There’s a common belief that things have never been as bad as they are now, that technology is dividing us so much more than it has in the past + misinformation, caused by social media, is the reason people lash out in violence. Quick history check – the Civil War was a time of greater political discourse than what we have now + if we take a look at 1692 – we burned people alive because we thought they were witches. Humans do crazy things when driven with fear + paranoia, which happens regardless of what medium it’s delivered to us. It’s easy to blame the messenger when the alternative is owning up to our own monstrous potential.

On that note – can we stop being scared of social media just because it’s new + people don’t fully understand it yet? The Social Dilemma tried to rebut this by basically saying “but social media is different because it’s fast therefore it’s scary”. Look, the generation before us was worried about dating sites, the generation before them was scared of TV, + before that it was radio. I’m sure at some point in time there were people touting how the printing press would be the downfall of human civilization. Social media is just another tool, it’s just another information avenue. Human beings are the reason bad things happen through social media – your need to fit in is the reason you worry about likes, your inability to guide civil conversation is the reason you just can’t seem to get along with those from different political parties. Take a look in the mirror + reflect on how you are part of the problem before you blame the device that allows you to act on those negative behaviors.

One point that The Social Dilemma made, that I fully support, is that something needs to be done to keep tech businesses in check + hold them accountable to their actions. But how do we do that?

Well, it’s certainly not by demonizing technology + advocating that it be removed from our society. Social media isn’t going anywhere + we need to learn to live with it, not fight against it. Quite the opposite, finding people who understand technology + are proponents of the positive possibilities need to have the power + space to take meaningful actions. Electing politicians who are avid users of social media + understand the industry enough to articulate how tech industries can be checked. Fighting for education specifically targeted to children + young adults on how they can navigate the world of fake news ++ potential mental health damage. Reflecting on your own actions + relationship with technology so you can articulate your true opinions to people in power. These are all crucial to start breaking down the negative outcomes of social media + start focusing our attention on how it can improve our lives. 

Fix the problem by starting with yourself — here are 7 journal prompts to get you thinking:

#1] What is your relationship like with social media? Would you consider it mostly negative or positive? Why do you feel that way?

#2] How can you identify bias in the political media you consume? What are some red flags [emotional language, unprofessional comments about the other party, who is writing/funding the content, etc] that might come up?

#3] Who is most often on your feed? Are these people + businesses that you want more of in your life?

#4] Are you only following people that agree with you? What might it look like to follow those with different viewpoints?

#5] What’s your take on Cancel Culture? Have you ever done something that might get you *cancelled* in the public eye? What might it look like to forgive + understand those who have been cancelled?

#6] Have you ever been on your phone around friends or family when you could have been engaging with them? What made you turn towards your phone in those moments? Is this something you would like to work on in the future?

#7] What would it look like to have a healthier relationship with your phone? How can you *test out* that healthier relationship this upcoming week?

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