“The Social Dilemma,” directed by Jeff Orlowski, is a documentary dissecting the psychological, societal and global effects of social networks on the human race. Backed by interviews from former employees of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, etc., the film examines the exploitative and addictive practices of social media and its hand in mental health issues, politics and fake news.
So, to soc or not to soc?
That is the question of our age, the one that’s on all of our minds. Unless you’re dead, you’ve had some level of contact with these services. They have all but completely shifted how we connect and communicate, broadening our social horizons and taking us to new heights. But with those highs also come deep, deep lows. So what are we to do? Keep them, ignore them, burn them all to a cinder? Because it doesn’t take a genius to realize we’ve got problems.
“The Social Dilemma” goes in with this mindset, looking to make sense of social media’s continued presence in our every waking moment. The film’s view isn’t about whether there’s a problem, it’s here to explain how bad it is. The film, taken at its word, is a scathing condemnation of social media companies and their culpability in global crises. Tech insiders and former company employees such as Tristan Harris, Tim Kendell and Justin Rosenstein detail the insidious methods these platforms use to harvest our data and information to keep us on the hook while they rake in the dough. The film documents the technology’s persuasive psychology and how it’s gradually changing how we think and act. GPS location, surveillance capitalism, tagging, algorithms, advertisers: each is a piece of a pie vying for our collective appetite. Like a magic trick, the illusion is that we are the customers when we are, in fact, the product.
If that sounds a bit Chicken Little, you’re not alone. Reactions to the film have been strong. Some view it as a revelatory wake-up call, while others see it as a contradictory propaganda piece. The film is not merely concerned with public health, it looks at the pervasiveness of misinformation and attacks on democracy. The filmmakers point the finger of responsibility directly to the social media industry. It’s an indictment sure to elicit powerful responses.
To the film’s credit, it’s an arresting watch with a curious structure. The pacing is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. There is so much information, faces and names that it would be easy for the story to fall into confusion. However, the filmmakers manage to stay afloat with sure-handed direction, progressively layering information and magnifying their scope without sacrificing focus. Whether on a personal or worldwide level, every point is precise, concise and sweeping. There are also a series of dramatized sequences involving a family dealing with social media dangers that are likely to be hit or miss. They’re a tad overblown and hammy, but they mostly work. They help to illustrate the isolative, depressive effect of social media, and the damaging influence imparted onto preteens and teenagers, young girls especially.
In our landscape of likes, shares and retweets, “The Social Dilemma” is a fascinating, provocative, possibly even essential viewing experience that paints a dystopian picture with a kernel of hope at its center. If we can escape our digital, consumer-based bubbles, we might just have a chance.