November 29, 2021
The CBS Post


In Review: A Call for being “Social” towards the Social Dilemma

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse”. As the Sophocles’ quote, accompanied by foreboding music, sets the momentum of “The Social Dilemma”, an American docudrama directed by Jeff Orlowski, it endeavours to create a conscience into the consciousness of the virtual world. It delineates how the wealthiest companies in the Silicon Valley have stimulated the world and its truth is wined and dined by us for extracting our data and privacy. The film gathers interviews with former Google design ethicist and Center for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris and other notable innovators and pioneers from the Silicon Valley.

The momentum is created by hurling the concept of Surveillance Capitalism, which is defined as the unilateral claim of human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data by the Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff explores those in her 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. “It arises as a jolt of information despite us being too informed”, which clearly symbolizes how information is being displayed today, which has ultimately given birth to The Age of Disinformation.

They dissect the business models of tech companies, where the advertisers are the customers. They monetize human behavior and attention into ‘big data oil’ augmented and ready to be mined from services paid for by large advertising companies. What is being competed for is our attention, behavior, lifestyle, and ultimately, our lives. “It starts from the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception”, which has created the wealthiest market of the globe; Trade in Human Futures.

While the “exploitative at best” business model of tech companies starts haunting the viewer, a suburban family is featured to show the consequences of social media addiction on teenagers. The body-shaming, addiction, insecurity, mental illness, exposure to polarized views, depression, and suicide, and wrong comprehension of the society is commonplace, fuelled by exposure to social media that tracks everything and everyone. The illusion of choice and falsified comfort of privacy is exploited as both leads to you being connected to your device. The visual graphics, foreboding music, personification of the algorithm, and the strong narrations summons a malign opinion from the viewer. Just as the
movie makes the viewer realise how social media is their self-dom, the democracies in attack and cyberwar fronts are delineated by the polarization of political examples; the role Facebook played in fuelling violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections in the United States of America, and more recently, the spread of conspiracy theories about the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

The irony is not lost on the movie; the fact that the information it feeds to the viewer in a limited time gives surreal feels of how the criticised search engines work. The communication is unilateral and somewhat biased against tech companies without assessing its alter ego.

A recent study by JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2020 evaluated the 100 most viewed videos on YouTube with the word “coronavirus”, these together had more than 165 million views as of March 5, 2020, 85% of them belonging to news channels. It was found that less than a third of the videos mentioned the recommended prevention measures, less than half mentioned the most frequent symptoms, however, almost 90% commented on deaths, anxiety, and the quarantine status. This study reflects an important aspect about the dissemination of “quality” information on the prevention of contagion and frequent symptoms of COVID-19 on mammoth platforms such as YouTube. What can be deduced out of this kind of viewership is that while YouTube might disseminate information that can run haywire, it’s “our data” fuelled algorithm that leads us to those falsified trending videos. If the inclination for chaos has become more important than the prevention, is the disseminator of both up for blame?

When it comes to publications, studies have shown that the dissemination of scientific literature on social media platforms has witnessed a rise in the traffic, downloads, queries, and citations of these articles which, with the COVID-19 pandemic are characteristics that have undoubtedly allowed rapid dissemination of knowledge worldwide, in addition to markedly reduced editorial times, which have gone from months of processing to days or weeks since its reception. If we prefer to gather information from social media platforms prone to misinformation rather than credible scientific journals and references, again is it the provider of both to blame for the trajectory?

“Misinformation is a concern, but not a bigger concern than feeding information.” While The Social Dilemma explains this concept in the most vivid way possible, these underlying questions on the hedonistic and irrational choices of humanity is not significantly questioned. The intriguing observation in the title “ The Social Dilemma” resides in the fact that only one side of the dilemma is abundantly explained while the other side is hardly touched upon.

What really the bottom line of the documentary is to elevate before reaching the end of this whirl of existential crisis. The million-dollar question of when technology will supersede human strengths is the blunder that is hiding the question of when technology will exceed human weakness. Are really these our weaknesses or born out of the onset of this madness? The matrix of this virtual world is a utopia brimming with the dystopian characteristics, or vice-versa, which is incomprehensible at best and oblivion at worst.

The documentary really made the manipulated brains quiver at the thought of what really is the reality, while still calling for changes in the business models, ethics, and the inevitable checkmate on humanity. It is worth watching at least once on Netflix if only you could watch it without posting about it!


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