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The Social Dilemma Review: A fascinating documentary that sometimes turns shallow.

Sagnik Kumar Gupta

Netflix’s new documentary about the evils of Social Media doesn’t even come close to the interesting source material that is associated with this subject. Netflix describes the documentary as “This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations”, but it does every thing other than exploring this vast subject.

Tristan Harris, currently the president and a co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and the former design ethicist at Google is the person who is featured predominantly in the documentary. He along with a bunch of Silicon Valley ex officials help us navigate through the ever changing virus in the form of social media that they had created. Many ex Silicon Valley officials make an appearance in the documentary including Tim Kendall, former VP Pinterest; Justin Rosenstien, former engineer with Google and Facebook, Sandy Parakilas, former operations manager Facebook and Jaron Lanier, writer of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, among others.

The main conversation of this film revolves around the danger posed by the fact that these social media platforms can effectively control and change the future of the human kind. A former member of the Mozilla lab explains how we the people aren’t the customer but our thought process is the product the social media AI’s are selling to the advertisers. Another important point that the film brings to our notice is that only the illegal drug industry and the software industries call their customers “users”. It touches upon the fact how Facebook was the primary vehicle through which the Rohingya Muslim were subjected to hate and were eventually forced to flee the country and how Youtube was the one of the primary causes of the PizzaGate Scandal. It also mentions how social media is abused for political benefits citing the examples of the alleged involvement of Russia in the American election through a montage sequence of Vladimir Putin.

When the Facebook Cambridge data leaks happened back in 2018, these conversations were hugely publicised and if you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably know more or less everything the documentary is saying. It doesn’t at all dive deep into the the subject matter. The way in which it portrays real life complex problems like the Rohingya crisis or the political crisis in America is often too simplistic and sometimes even seems naïve. I wondered whether it was so because of the strict non-disclosure agreements or due to the sheer lack of vision of the filmmaker. At a time when Facebook is facing criticism due to its turning of a blind eye to the hate speeches run by far right Hindu extremist groups in India , one would have enjoyed a bit more if the examination was a bit more detailed.

The film also juxtaposes a fictional tale of an American teenage school boy to depict the real world ramifications of the evils of Social Media. This segment is by far the weakest point of the script as it is caricaturish, childish and hugely laughable. Three men are standing who are behind a screen bidding our conscious to the advertisers is the personified version of the Facebook Algorithm but this is a gamble that fails horribly. The screenplay in this segment is too simplistic and doesn’t complement the nature and the mood of the documentary at all. The sequence of the political manipulation in this segment is badly choreographed and far too dramatic. The main problem that the younger generation face with respect to social media is its adverse effect to mental health which eventually sometimes leads to self-harm. We human beings are always susceptible to validation in any shape or form and social media serves as a prime means for that unquenchable thirst. The film touches upon the subject and doesn’t give it the due importance that it deserved as it is one of the ( if not the most ) vital follies related to social media.

At the end of the documentary the various experts warn us about the near future and predict the possibility of a civil war if things carry on as it is. Even though this sounds like a warning knell simply boycotting social media isnt the answer. The experts don’t elaborate or explain the ways or means by which the social media can be made into a safer environment for its users. Some of the experts though being optimistic give vague answers to the problem. For a documentary which investigates well known facts and finally manages to eradicate the problem (in the fictional narrative) , the solutions should have been better formulated and thought instead of subscribing to the boycott movement. But nevertheless it serves as an reminder of the humongous amount of problems that exist and I hope you will be inspired to find out ways to solve the situation ( you have probably guessed that I wasn’t inspired.)

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Alternate Take

Alternate Take

A space for reviews, retrospectives, analyses, interviews around all things cinema, standing left of the field.