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'The Social Dilemma': Humanity for Sale

"If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product," is just one of the harsh reality checks for social media users in the Netflix documentary-drama, 'The Social Dilemma'. No matter how dreary and heavy the issues covered and questions raised in this article are, they will be extremely important to reflect upon, no matter how uncomfortable. The documentary-drama consists of real-life interviews with renowned tech geniuses, who have had first-hand exposure to the dark side of social media and who have now ironically removed themselves from the toxicity for the sake of their own sanity and morals. They cover topics like mental health, manipulation, addiction, democracy and surveillance. Supporting the interviews are fictional sketches, which demonstrate how the dark side of social media is apparent in daily life. These scenes are split into two sides: a family majorly affected by social media and tech creators being the puppet masters by creating a model of the said family members through social media algorithms. 

The particular issue that I want to focus on is the idea that specific algorithms are created by these tech companies, specifically the large ones in Silicon Valley, to sell our humanity. As Shoshana Zuboff, PhD states, creators "sell certainty" - they know that we will continue to use their platforms because their algorithms create the unbeatable worldwide addiction we have. Tech companies have "three main goals: engagement, growth and advertising." These goals have the same focus: us. More specifically, using our humanity as a product, and creating the most beneficial ways for them to make money through us.   

Selling humanity can mean several things: firstly, physically through ads, algorithms and product updates. For instance, us buying into each of these tactics results in humanity as a race making the money for these companies, through "persuasive technology." Through social media surveillance, they know who you are, what you are interested in and even your mood, so they personalise adverts to tailor to you at that precise moment, meaning more of a chance of you investing, both financially and with an increase in activity.     

Secondly (and arguably more importantly), the toxicity, manipulation and addiction of social media have had drastic effects on mental health, particularly among Gen Z females. Statistics on the documentary-drama from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention show from 2009 (when social media became available on mobile phones) US hospital admissions for non-fatal self-harm increased by 189% for females aged 10-14 and 62% for females aged 15-19. Furthermore, US suicide rates have risen by 151% for females aged 10-14 and 70% for females aged 15-19. I find these statistics incredibly shocking, both the rate of increase over just 11 years and the numbers themselves. As a Gen Z female, half of me is shocked but the other half understands the impact social media can have upon young and impressionable women. Social media comes with an intense pressure to look and feel a particular way and when you are not social-media-perfect it makes you almost feel inadequate. A particular algorithm that plays into this is face-altering filters on apps like Snapchat and Instagram - what one looks like with the filters applied becomes an inaccessible norm and taking a photo without a filter becomes extremely difficult and abnormal, so beauty standards and pressures are raised to meet the filtered face. The above statistics just make the toxicity of social media undeniable, and something that needs to be regulated more ethically, to stop the destruction of humanity. Although these numbers are based on Gen Z females, the impact is definitely not restricted to this group - social media affects people of all ages and genders to an extent equal to this.                  

Where do businesses come into all of this? 
It can be argued that all of the above mainly applies to personal use of social media and the negatives of social media for businesses are all based on 'ifs' and 'maybes.' For instance, there is a chance of confidential information being released and you are open to more criticism by giving the consumer power to criticise you on a public level. These factors could have the potential to fatally affect your company, but it does not come with the guarantee of loss of humanity like personal use of social media does.          

The information is out there, but is that enough to get anyone to quit social media?
Before watching 'The Social Dilemma' I would say that I was ignorant to the extent that it uses and affects us, but since watching it and continuing to be a part of the toxic tech world I have to admit that I am now accepting, and that can be said for anyone else like me. Lets put it this way, I have checked my phone for no reason several times throughout writing this article and I worryingly know that I will continue to do so after finishing it too! Perhaps we just accept the positives, but at least 'The Social Dilemma' has given us an insight into the negatives. However, has the impact of social media gone too far for us to be able to regulate it? Instead, does it not lie in the laps of the creators to fix, but why would they 'fix' it, if in their eyes there is nothing to regulate, as they are making as much money from us as ever? 

Do documentaries like this affect your use of social media? If so, how long until you go back to it or a new social platform appears telling us that it is different than the others and you fall for it?           

By Abigail Gamble
A recent BA English graduate, who loves to travel and the theatre.     


'The Social Dilemma': Humanity for Sale Reviewed by Abigail Gamble on Tuesday, November 24, 2020 Rating: 5
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