The Social Dilemma

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This week, I finally got around to watching The Social Dilemma documentary and it blew my mind!

I wasn’t in a hurry to see it because I figured they would be “just preaching to the choir.” I’ve never been a fan of social media anyway, and have been really disgusted with it during the past few years. 

However, I discovered that the issues are much more dangerous and complicated than I ever could have imagined. It was truly horrifying. 

So this week, I am sharing some information from the film’s website to give you an idea of the scope of the problems and to encourage you to watch the film and get involved with creating solutions.

As they say on the website,

“Technology’s promise to keep us connected has given rise to a host of unintended consequences that are catching up with us.”

“The Social Dilemma blends documentary investigation and narrative drama to disrupt the disruptors, unveiling the hidden machinations behind everyone’s favorite social media and search platforms.”

A Fundamental Problem

While, I was not a fan of the “narrative drama” in the film, I understand from an interview between Katie Couric and the creators of the film, that the creators of the documentary were concerned that people wouldn’t pay attention if it just contained information. They were seeking a way to make it engaging. This in itself, demonstrates a the extent of the problem – that the majority of the population is not interested in straight information.

Bonus Clips

In addition to the film itself, the website has some bonus clips that highlight some themes from the film.

The Democracy Dilemma  

“From digital voter suppression to the amplification of misinformation, Big Social’s business model is selling off our democracy to the highest bidder.

The the social ecosystem has given people the tools to spread an agenda that can be anything from a terrorist organization reaching out to recruit like we saw with Isis or the internet research agency reaching out to exploit societal divisions like we saw in the 2016 election.” 

From the video transcript: 

“Governments are figuring out they can use these social media platforms to manipulate public opinion to their own end to spread disinformation, propaganda, and stir up hatred sometimes against vulnerable populations or the political opposition.

If you think about presidential campaigns from years past, they used TV and radio media that were the same for every person who heard or saw those advertisements.

However, on Facebook or Twitter or other social media they can actually customize an ad for very small groups of people who all have, the same personality type and that enables campaigns to manipulate very small segments of the of the population to do very specific things like vote for a particular candidate or raise money or potentially even to not vote at all.

These campaigns are so well executed that you don’t have a natural cognitive defense against this stuff. You are just going to accept what you see, particularly if it appeals to your biases — which it should if they’re doing their job right —  targeting the right people with the right content.

This is not a future society that is compatible with democracy that is compatible with human freedom, that is compatible with the most elemental sense of human agency.

Democracy isn’t simply the option to vote for candidate A or candidate B, it is being well informed about what the candidates actually stand for,  That’s what we’re we’re at risk of Losing. Having outside parties interfere in our election is just a horrible thing. Voting is the most basic building block of democracy and if we don’t have that what do we have?”

The Mental Health Dilemma

From the video Transcript:

“Our youth cannot stop looking at social media. Their brains have changed. They have become addicted and there’s something very dangerous about that.”

The number one psychiatric disorder among teenagers is anxiety. Typically it’s anxiety about needing to check in with social media. 

There’s another study that looked at fear of missing out and it looked at kids who have high anxiety around missing out. Even though social media makes them more anxious, makes them more worried about missing out, they can’t stop looking at it. 

The prefrontal cortex hasn’t developed enough for them to be able to put it down — to say to themselves, ‘It’s not making me feel good.’

The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is involved in our cognitive control, our ability to process and direct our attention based on our goals, is the last part of our brain to develop.  This doesn’t get completely developed until you’re in your mid to late 20s.  

“So kids are getting these tools right when they have the least capability of actually controlling their behavior. I think we can confidently say that it’s changing the way that teens interact with each other, with peers and with the world and that those changes and interactions lead to changes in behavior — changes in psychiatric — in mental health. We should not be surprised. And it’s not just because the culture has changed it’s because their brains have changed.

They also get trained in instant gratification by these devices and there’s something very dangerous about that because in real life we don’t get everything that we want instantly.

They are bombarding our teenagers and our young adults with so much that they become addicted to the continuous input of stimulus and information.”

“We know that there are many activities that are critical for our development: face-to-face communication, physical activity, exposure to nature and Sleep. I would say that all of these are being threatened in some way by increasing access to information technology.

I think parents are in a really tough situation right now. I think because tech has negative effects, they have to balance between trying to protect their kids; but also let’s face it, there’s tremendous social pressure to use technology and it’s also incredibly important that children are technically literate.

There need to be more resources that help them make those decisions and frankly, the companies need to be largely responsible for ensuring that the use of these products is responsible.”

Prejudice and Discrimination

“64% of the people who joined extremist groups on Facebook did so because the algorithms steered them there.”Internal Facebook report 2018

“Algorithms promote content that sparks outrage, hate, and amplifies biases within the data that we feed them.”

Bonus Interviews


Dr. Anna Lembke

“Do you feel bad after using social media? There’s a reason. Not unlike addictive drugs, the rush of excitement from checking social media leaves us in a dopamine deficit state that keeps us coming back for more.” – Dr. Anna Lembke, Stanford University, School of Medicine Medical Director of Addiction Medicine, Author, Dopamine Deficit

Questioning Your Beliefs

How do you know what you know? Aza Raskin and Renée DiResta share why the many default opinions that we hold often make us vulnerable to those using social media to influence public opinion.

Social Media Is Not Free

Justin Rosenstein

Justin Rosenstein, former engineer at Facebook explains why we pay for social media platforms with our attention and why we may be the last generation to remember what life was like before the constant partial attention that defines today’s culture.

Maryanne Wolf

Becoming Skimmers

Featuring: Maryanne Wolf, Director, UCLA Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice, Author, ‘Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World’

“Why social media compromises our deep reading processes and reduces the complexity of arguments, making us more susceptible to false information and fake news. Maryanna Wolf explains why we are becoming a generation of skimmers.”

From the video transcript:

“The average person is unaware that they are actually in any given day absorbing or being bombarded with anywhere between 50 and 100 000 words a day.

We are becoming what I call ‘the skimmers,’ the skimmers of what we read and indeed the skimmers of how we are looking at our world. We literally are using those deep reading processes that require extra time, less and less. When we are bombarded every day, every hour, we don’t realize that it actually makes us more susceptible to false information, to fake news.  The last thing we ever want is the complexity of an argument or a decision to be rendered in under x amount of characters; and yet, that is what is happening to all of us. It’s a kind of twitter-a-zation of our world.

It’s not innovation that is guilty. It’s innovation without respect or knowledge or  examination of what is being disrupted and diminished. That’s my greatest worry that we will innovate for innovation’s sake, we will disrupt for disruption’s sake, we will connect for connection’s sake.  We must realize that is not the recipe for a wise digital society. My hope is that we will learn to make critically analytic, empathic citizens.”

Dr. Adam Gazzaley

Information as Food

Dr. Adam Gazzaley Neuroscape, Founder & Executive Director, University of California, Professor of Neurology, Psychology, Psychiatry, explains why thinking of information as food can promote healthier social media habits from ensuring we get a balanced information diet to creating intentional time for consuming and digesting information. 

“I’ve started to think about how we consume information as analogous to how we consume food. There’s certainly junk food out there and there’s information out there that you are probably better off not consuming at all. Maybe there’s a guilty pleasure that you could consume some information every once in a while but for the most part we should be focused on consuming as nourishing, high level of information as we can. And that doesn’t mean that we should be consuming that information all the time. There are meal times. There are times that are reserved for consuming information and other times that should be devoted to digesting it.”

And here is a list of more resources from their website


Our Brains Are No Match for Our Technology Tristan Harris, New York Times

The Dark Psychology of Social Networks, Jonathan Haidt, The Atlantic

Free Speech Is Not The Same As Free Reach, Renée DiResta, Wired


Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business Review


The Truth About Algorithms, Cathy O’Neill, RSA WATCH

Want to Work for Google? You Already Do, Joe Toscano, TEDx Talks

Watch the Film

I hope that sharing these excerpts will motivate you to watch the film, and protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers.  

I’m looking forward to knowing what you think.

Has this made a difference in the way you look at social media?

Will you be getting off of it altogether or making any modifications to your viewing habits?

Join the discussion in the comments below.

Here’s to solving the “social dilemma!”

We don’t have to settle. There is a power within us greater than any circumstance, situation or condition. Let’s use it!

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