Social Media Threatens Our Reality

The Social Dilemma highlights the unintended consequences

Liam Hartley
The Startup
Published in
10 min readSep 20, 2020


There are only two industries that call their customers users: Illegal drugs and software.

— The Social Dilemma, Netflix 2020

When we think about robots taking our jobs and rising up against us we think of some futuristic dystopian machine like this:


But the reality is that the robots already run the world and it looks like this:


It’s difficult to spot the impending doom in the second photo, but it’s not far away.

Familiar scenes like this at restaurants, pubs and at home scared me enough to delete my Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts a few years ago. Since then I’ve had a barrage of questions from my peers about why I decided to go off the grid.

My answer is not a soundbite, my answer is not a clickbait title and my answer is ugly. My answer has three components:

  1. Mental Wellbeing
  2. Democracy
  3. Surveillance Capitalism

Each one is as important as the next.

1. Mental Wellbeing

What is the first thing that you do when you wake up? Or the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

Do you go to the bathroom?
Do you think about your loved ones?
Do you reflect on the day?

Or do you check your phone?

Most teenagers and a lot of adults would answer the latter, it’s difficult when your phone is your alarm clock and there’s a horde of notifications that are demanding your attention.

These notifications aren’t demanding your attention by accident, they demand your attention by design.

There are whole teams of well educated, highly skilled and talented software engineers, UX designers, data scientists and managers who define success as