THE SOCIAL DILEMMA: AN INTRODUCTION
Curiously this film was released almost exactly ten years after David Fincher’s biographical drama The Social Network about the founding of Facebook; a lot has changed in the intervening decade. The unbridled expansion of social media use in every corner of the globe has led to a seismic culture shift, with social media being the real driving force in the spread of homogenised, global ‘internet’ culture. It’s connected us at a scale that few would have predicted fifteen or twenty years ago. With the imminent onset of 5G it is difficult to predict how much further it will permeate and mould society and culture.
Like the printing press, telegram, telephone, radio, television, mobile phone and email before it, social media has made a dramatic impact on how we communicate. But never before in the evolution of communication has the proliferation and adoption of a technology been so rapid, nor has the technology’s ownership and control been so concentrated in the hands of so few private corporations - and never before has a communications technology had such vast capabilities to gather detailed, intimate information (in real time) on every facet of our lives.
The film lays bare several of the major ethical quandaries of social media. But at the heart of each of them seems to be the negative effects of influencing people’s behaviour steering it towards consumption. And that is one of the core inbuilt flaws in social media - that it relies on advertising as its main source of revenue. One might argue that it is the same for television but for many years television was dominated by a small number of networks that had public service remit and had core journalistic standards and practices at its core. Social media was born and came of age in a time of unfettered capitalism.
HOW DID IT MAKE YOUNG VIEWERS FEEL?
Unsettled, Vulnerable But Committed to Using Social
“I really felt that my privacy was invaded. The documentary made me feel especially unsettled due to the fact I have been using social media platforms since I’ve been relatively young. To know now that these companies are currently targeting my generation is quite disturbing. When my friends and I discussed the documentary we could all see our vulnerability. We all would obviously love to delete social media but we are hesitant due to the fear of “missing out” and “losing contact.” Katie, age 17
“It's scary to realise how addictive social media has become and how much information is gathered on us, but I don't think it'll make me use it any less or differently. I kind of knew all those things in the back of my mind anyway.” Michelle, age 29
"I thought it was good, it didn't tell me anything I wasn't aware of already though. It was very well done and informative!” Emily, age 23
Reappraisal of Real Life Living
“I definitely know some teens who really struggle getting off their phone, so much so that they struggle not to use it in class. I honestly wish we met all our friends and love interests in person, offline. I hope when I am older I don’t have to rely on online dating because often people portray an alter ego online. But I have faith my generation will make a change because using social media as socialization 24/7 is not feasible.” Katie, age 17
Worried about Parents’ Reactions
“I watched The Social Dilemma with my parents which was a rookie mistake! I was pretty aware of what was going on in terms of large organisations being able to know quite a lot about our lives through our technology. My parents on the other hand were petrified by the documentary. It was really important for them to know exactly how their data is being used so that they can be more conscious and careful in the future.” Katie, age 24
YOUTH’S REFLECTION ON SOLUTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES
“I feel like social media has been recently used for more harm than good. Things pop up every so often like #bekind, but those are so easily forgotten. There needs to be more legislation put in place, I can only imagine how much of an impact it is having on people who are younger than me.” James, age 23
Ethical Laws & Combating Fake News
“If I could change social media, I would enforce laws around advertising for children because they will become addicted from a young age to using social media otherwise and therefore reliant on it as an adult. We should have the right to select what data these companies see about us because we all deserve privacy, but most of all I think that it's these corporations ethical duty to fix this problem that they have created. Fake news should be banned. I know most of my friends get their news from Snapchat which makes me feel physically ill.” Katie, age 17
Harness its power for good
“Social media is a remarkable and useful tool. If we harnessed it in the right way the world would greatly benefit… For example, many countries' youth took part in #blackouttuesday to spread the ‘black lives matter’ movement. If social media chose to promote climate change, the housing crisis, feminism and actual issues rather than promoting Kylie Jenner’s latest scandal, I can't even imagine how positive, educated, justice seeking and politically correct people would become.” Katie, age 17
Watch this space…
“In many ways the genie is out of the bottle, the film is unequivocal in reiterating this. Social media isn't going anywhere soon. The nearest example of how to control it or the dangers of not controlling it come from that other great monolith, banking. The individual cannot compete with the asymmetrical power of these private organisations. Social Media giants like giant banking corps cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Neither need to be destructive forces, but both need the checks and balances that can be provided through legislation and education. Indeed this battle is already in toe, with the European Union at loggerheads with Google and Facebook. If you thought the culture wars were destructive, just wait for the data wars.” - Donagh, Social & Digital Director, THINKHOUSE
While The Social Dilemma has brought social media concerns and conversations to the surface, this is not a new revelation for the marketing and advertising world. Ethics and governance around advertising on social media platforms has simply become even higher on the agenda - take the recent Ad Boycott of Facebook for example.
Social media is a force for good and bad - it’s not always black and white. This is a timely reminder to not be too complacent. We can all be a part of change in this space.
- As ad buyers, brands (and agencies!) have a massive opportunity to be a part of creating better environments on social media for all its users and especially younger generations by working with partners and peers to demand change.
- As content creators and publishers, brands or organisations can play a great role in encouraging more positive things in the digital world.
- As social media users, are there notifications you would personally like to mute? Thinking about how you disrupt your own feed and invite more diverse narratives on your newsfeed is a worthy exercise. Read more about your own online security in this recent article.
Finally, keep your eyes open and continue to educate yourself on this subject. “To really understand the subject I’d highly recommend two books by two thinkers and contributors to the film, You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier and the slight more academic and pessimistic The Age of Surveillance Capitalism : The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff.” - Donagh, Social & Digital Director, THINKHOUSE