Jeff Orlowski's production is based on testimonies from former employees of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest that tell how they participated in the development of technologies that served to polarize opinions, viralize conspiracy theories and consume everything that the screens dictate
By Desirée Jaimovich September 15, firstname.lastname@example.org Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShareTrailer of “The dilemma of social networks” Netflix documentary
Disinformation, polarized opinions, the imperious need to please the other and addiction to screens are some of the harmful consequences that came from the hand of the computer giants, as analyzed in the documentary The Dilemma of Social Networks by New Yorker Jeff Orlowski that Netflix has just released and that is giving a lot to talk about.
The film analyzes some of the phenomena that have been arising for a long time from different sectors of the academy, the media and even by governments in different parts of the world. Just think of the Cambridge Analitica scandal , the scrutiny that big tech has been subjected to in Europe and the United States , or the multiple studies that address the harmful effects that could derive from being plugged into a screen 24/7 to understand that talking about the dark side of the digital universe is not entirely original.
In this sense, it can be said that the documentary does not make great revelations, since it addresses questions that have been reflected on for a long time. But that is not why it stops being interesting: it invites reflection and stands out especially for the number of testimonials from sources, outstanding and relevant, which it gathers and synthesizes in one hour and 34 minutes.
Netflix defines this production as a “hybrid between documentary and drama that delves into the business of social networks, the power they wield and the addiction they generate in us: their perfect bait.” They speak of a hybrid because of the testimonies they offer former executives of Google , Facebook , Instagram , Twitter and Pinterest , as well as psychologists and other experts, adds the dramatization of a family played by Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward and Vincent Kartheiser that seeks to represent the consequences that watching and living life can generate through the networks.
“The dilemma of social networks”, a documentary that invites us to reflect on the impact of technological platforms in our lives
Addictive design and the continuous need for rewards
The user has an urgent need to receive a reward that comes in the form of a comment, a “like”, a retweet or a feed that is continuously updated. Companies have created platforms that seek to take advantage of that dopamine, a neurotransmitter that participates in motivation and rewards for pleasant stimuli, which is stimulated when a notification arrives indicating that someone has noticed us.
The herd instinct and to please that humans have is enhanced by the very design that these technologies have, which generate small intermittent reinforcements in the form of warnings, alarms or notifications and in that sense they work like slot machines, according to Harris.
Justin Rosenstein, who was a product manager at Google and also one of the creators of the “Like Facebook” button.
Competition for user attention
Tim Kendall, former director of monetization at Facebook and former president of Pinterest, is another of the voices that speaks of the need to capture attention that social networks have. The platforms emerged as a space to make opinions visible, promote public participation, which have generated some positive changes: they have become the public square to spread ideas or movements such as Me Too , for example. It can be said that the networks contributed to giving a voice to a wider sector of society.
But they have also become spaces that can lead to manipulation. The problem, as analyzed in different testimonials, is that the networks feed on advertising and this business model requires that the attention of consumers be continuously captured. Why? Because sites need to be popular. It is popularity, your ability to attract visitors, that is monetized.
Aza Raskin, former employee of Firefox and Mozilla, speak about this and other issues related to the B-side of the platforms; Alex Roetter, who was once the vice president of product for Twitter, Jeff Seibter, who worked as a product manager on that same social network, or Justin Rosenstein, who was a product manager at Google and also one of the creators of the “Me like “on Facebook.
The film was made by director Jeff Orlowski
Another point that is addressed in the documentary, both from the testimonies of the sources consulted and through the representation with the actors, is how social networks have contributed to the polarization of opinions . The algorithms seek to enhance the interests of the user who, according to the film, ends up entangled in a microworld where they consume content that strengthens their positions . In this sense, it can be said that each one ends up seeing the world they want to see.
To prove this point, among others, a study published by the Pew Research Center in 2014 based on a survey of more than 10,000 adults in the US is cited, which concludes that Republicans and Democrats are more ideologically separated than at any other time in history. recent .
If we talk about ideological cracks, it is worth remembering a study carried out by the Web Foundation in 2018 that at that time showed Facebook information in Argentina and its impact on users according to their different political views. The study concluded that the information users saw varied according to the different profiles and their affinities, but it was not clear what the criteria, or the algorithm behind, was.
Tristan Harris is known for being a staunch critic of what he describes as the addictive design used on platforms to capture the constant attention of users.
Social networks often promote the spread of fake news as well as conspiracy theories. In this sense, remember that unsupported ideas such as flat Earth or that 5G is responsible for the spread of the coronavirus have used platforms to become viral.
He assures that fake news goes viral up to six times faster than real information and that this often happens because conspiracy theories tend to be more attractive. “The truth is boring”, reflects one of the specialists. And yes, the strange, the particular or what seems to be an explanation full of twists and turns and mysteries has an irresistible attraction for many and the “share” button is so within reach hand in hand that can be overly tempting. This is a real problem and it is not the first time it has been mentioned. There are hundreds of studies that account for this.
But what it does not mention in the documentary is that, in light of these facts, the platforms have been taking more and more measures to stop the spread of fake news . It should be noted the tags that Twitter uses to mark tweets that include misleading content or that promote violence or the options offered by Instagram, Facebook or YouTube for users to report when any of the community rules are violated. Or the limitations to the messages that can be forwarded that WhatsApp implemented to reduce the spread of fake news. Some might see this as limitations on freedom of expression, and others as responses to a problem that requires some moderation.
And regardless of how it looks, the truth is that it is not a blunt solution, but just some initiatives that have to be accompanied by education in this regard so that people stop falling victim to deception .
Social networks can generate a contact need to be connected, according to the film (EFE / Sascha Steinbach / Archive)
In this sense, it must be said that several investigations have been carried out and digital literacy strategies are being implemented, from different entities, so that users learn to discern reliable sources from others that are not and, above all, so that they do not rush for sharing any post or message they receive. In this sense, the viralization of fake news has also generated, at least in a segment of the population, the need to consume quality news in the media.
In the documentary, studies are mentioned that account for the negative consequences that social networks can cause, especially in adolescents . At a stage where the personality is being built, the need to please becomes imperative. And the bulling that can come from the platforms not only does not contribute to this stage but it could promote depression .
So far, it can be said that the film analyzes a point that has been mentioned in several studies but goes a little further when a specialist seeks to link the increase in suicides of adolescents and young adults registered in the United States in recent years with excessive consumption social networks. Linking the two data in a causal relationship seems, to say the least, simplistic because it lacks arguments to relate these indices.
The film has the testimonies of former executives of the most important technology companies in the world.
The debate and visibility as an engine of change
The film closes with an encouraging message: change is possible. Making visible what is wrong, the B or harmful side is the first step to make changes. In short, it is about making the population aware of these issues in order to generate positive technology , which is not based on training 100% of the user's attention and that gives space for people to look into each other's eyes again, to use your voice, to move in the analog world.