The Social Dilemma - Show Time with Mitrajit Bhattacharya

Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, delivers a chilling allegation: Russia didn’t hack Facebook; it simply used the platform.

Though Zuckerberg’s name isn't mentioned until late, his company's outsized influence on the world of social media is felt all over the film. The documentary is built brick by brick based on interviews with heads of top tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter who left after having helped build them up, and now seem to suffer from a collective guilty conscience. The Social Dilemma is a documentary full of worrying statements that leave the audience, who also are users of social media, with an impression that social media is to blame for most of contemporary society’s individual and collective ills.

The last decade can simply be measured as ten years that separated the release of The Social Network in 2010 that chronicled the making of Facebook and the 2020 Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma that now tries to educate and warn viewers about how social media is designed to manipulate and foster addiction, polarization and radicalization.

“Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people,” says Tristan Harris, a former Google design head. Harris, along with other former tech designers and innovators bring our attention on the constantly updated algorithms that help sites predict and manipulate our online behaviour to drive higher engagement and bring in more advertising dollars; also leaving a side-effect of detrimental psychological effects on individuals.

The interviewees talk about how social media has been weaponized by individuals and institutions globally to spread misinformation and destabilize democracies. The way our individual feeds reaffirm our existing beliefs, to the extent that people can no longer agree on what's true or factual, leading to division and subsequent chaos. This film delves into the worries the experts share and what we can possibly do about it.

Though most of the strategies were worked out intentionally, though their extreme efficiency may have been unforeseen. One unintended consequence has flowed from the invention of the ubiquitous “Like” button takes us to the broader nature of the problem. While the button was under development, recalls Justin Rosenstein, who led the effort at Facebook as an engineering manager, the team’s only motivation was to “spread positivity and love in the world.” No one could have imagined that teens would become deeply depressed for lack of Likes.

In his previous documentaries, Chasing Coral and Chasing Ice, Director Jeff Orlowski passionately advocated for environmental causes. His passion is no less here, but many critics felt, including yours truly, disappearance of tropical coral and melting of the Arctic ice are more definable issues than analyzing social media’s unique benefits and deep negative impact. And hence, Orlowski’s choice of mixing conventional documentary techniques with enhanced dramatizations is uncomfortable, occasionally clumsy and not totally necessary.

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