Ironically enough, people have been turning to social media to talk about the bad feeling Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma has left in their stomach. With testimonies from ex-employees of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more, the documentary takes a deep dive into social media’s impact on mental health, politics, and the economy. But is The Social Dilemma accurate, or just entertainment?
“I’m not trying to encourage people to delete social media, as opposed to just be aware of what it’s doing and why and how,” the film’s director, Jeff Orlowski told First Showing back in March. Orlowski added that as soon as some of the first viewers of the 93-minutedocumentary walked out of the Sundance screening, they shared with him that that they planned to change relationship with their phones.
Though issues like bullying, digital addiction, the spread of fake news, and surveillance are very real, the future of social media might not be as grim as the doc leaves viewers feeling.
“Social media isn’t all bad,” cybersecurity expert Kristina Podnar tells Bustle, explaining that she felt slightly defensive after watching it. “In a time of the pandemic, social media has afforded us connections in ways that we couldn’t have done otherwise. We just need to understand the good aspects that come from it, what we are giving up for using the platforms, and how they need to change,” she says.
As humans, we’ve almost lost control over these systems. Because they’re controlling the information that we see, they’re controlling us more than we’re controlling them,” Sandy Parakilas, a former operations manager at Facebook, says in The Social Dilemma.
The documentary makes it seem like social media has run away from its creators, but Podnar says that this theory is “naïve and wrong.” To imply that what’s become of social media is a surprise, is to imply that the people who made it didn’t know what they were doing, she says. “People were getting paid to work at the social media companies — it is a business. Businesses exist for profit, so of course the platforms were always going to do things beyond connecting people [and] helping individuals find long-lost relatives,” Podnar says. She adds that it’s the nature of businesses that provide a free service to explore how to monetize your engagement, which has led things like targeted advertising. “To now say that platforms took on a life of their own is shirking of responsibility by the very architects of the system,” she adds.