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The Social Dilemma

This part documentary, part dramatization piece examines the impact that social media is having on us and on our society. The documentary piece consists of a lot of talking heads, former executives, and designers for the major tech platforms such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and others. These are (mostly) young people who have been on the inside of the strategies to grow the social media empires. The dramatization, which I particularly liked, uses a family of varying levels of technology adoption and three humans who are acting as the information signals that are sent to us from AI computers through our cell phones. They track all of the family’s activities and dramatize how AI is used to manipulate how we think and what we believe. The combination of documentary and dramatization is powerful. A lot of this I knew about already from my years of study in influence and persuasion psychology. I was reminded of Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders, a classic that is one of the first books published (1957) on the history of social marketing and how psychology was used to sell products, which at that time was starting to intersect with television advertising. The stage changes, but the play remains the same: Large tech corporations have free reign in how they collect massive amounts of data on your activities, likes, and behaviors and use that to directly market back to you in order to make money. The technology, in the words of one of the experts, is at the same time a utopia and dystopia. The points about the money to be made in disinformation and the erosion of democracies is well made and create a sobering thought piece. Big thumbs up for me; this film should be essential viewing that can provide interesting opportunities for discussion. It also left me with some hope that the young people can articulate the problem and many of them are starting to find ways to tackle it. (2020; 4.5 Stars).

About Gary Burkholder

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