Jenna Knepper ‘21: A documentary aimed to bring the manipulation of social media algorithms to light, The Social Dilemma follows a few of the most influential social media creators and their opinions on the advancements of their own creation.

The film introduces people like Tristain Harris, former Google designer, and Justin Rosenstein, a creator of the Facebook ‘like’ button. Throughout the documentary, the viewer watches an interview with these creators as well as a mini-drama of a family acting out the effects of technology. In the film, many powerful quotes stated during the interview display across the screen. 

“The platforms make it possible to spread manipulative narratives with phenomenal ease, and without very much money,” research manager of Stanford Internet Observatory and former head of policy at Data for Democracy, Renée Diresta, said.

The Social Dilemma covers the many issues that social media algorithms create in polarizing political opinions. The more you agree with a certain political agenda, the more that agenda projects on every social media you use. People stop seeing the opposing side of the argument, leading to greater separation and hostility surrounding politics. Social media becomes a catalyst for division among people.

Many think limiting social media use becomes a simple solution to stopping these platforms; however, when asked how their companies make money from customers, the creators respond with a unanimously disturbing answer. Most agree that we who use these platforms are not the customers at all. 

“We’re the product. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers,” former engineer for Facebook and Google and co-founder of Asana, Justin Rosenstain, said.

“It’s a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures,” Harvard University professor Shoshoana Zubuff said.

This docudrama not only follows the effects of social media on the human brain but the real ethical dilemmas that arise in these multi-million dollar industries. Many social media industry workers begin to realize the terrifying effect of their platforms on humans, specifically teens. 

Study after study reveals the exponentially growing rate of teens with anxiety and depression as well as the rate of teen suicides starting from age 10 as a result of social media. The film discusses how many people begin to find their identity in the number of likes on a post, which leads to a lack in self-confidence and positivity; doing the exact opposite of the original purpose of the button.

“When we were making the ‘like’ button, our entire motivation was ‘can we spread positivity and love in the world?’ The idea that fast forward to today and teens would be getting depressed when they don’t have enough likes or it could be leading to political polarisation was nowhere on our radar,” Rosenstein said.

Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even Gmail learn information about you every time you open your phone and use your data to manipulate you. The brainwashing occurs in the hours spent on devices viewing pictures and ads that pay social media companies to continue manipulating your content and ultimately addicting you to these platforms.

It becomes a cycle where the longer and more often you use social media, the more your feed customizes itself to make money and time off of you.

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software,” Edward Tufte said.

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