by Anoushka Roshan | October 5, 2020
When my mom forced me to watch The Social Dilemma with her this weekend, I was curious as to how they would treat the already controversial subject of social media. What would this documentary offer that I had not already seen in several other movies about the same topic? In some ways, The Social Dilemma does convey the same message: social media is doing more harm than good, and we should control our screen time. The difference with this documentary, however, is its treatment. The documentary switches between interviews of tech insiders and an imaginary storyline of how social media affects a typical middle-class American family.
From the start, the viewer is introduced to ex-employees of some of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley: Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. These people have left their high-ranking positions (one of them even was on the team that initially worked on Gmail) because they had serious ethical concerns about a side of the tech industry that users have not seen. However, these interviews tend to be slightly repetitive at times. What saves this documentary is the editing and alternating storytelling. The interviews are not dragged out for too long and the movie alternates between interviews and the storyline of the modern-day American family, which hits extremely close to home.
Another fascinating aspect of this documentary is how they personify AI. AI seems like such a foreign topic, but this is not the case. AI is on our phones, and this documentary presents that very clearly. In the fictitious storyline, three people represent the AI in the teenage son’s phone. They know everything about him: what he likes, what he is most likely to engage with, and what notifications to send him to make him check his phone. This is a scarily accurate representation of what is going on inside all of our phones, minus the three tiny humans living in our phones, of course.
Most importantly, this documentary does not limit itself to the topic of teens but rather expands on the long-term social and political consequences of our screen time and the extensive use of social media. The documentary puts a great amount of energy into exploring the impact of fake news and how it is demolishing the very foundations of democracy. The Social Dilemma offers a very interesting take on the effects of social media, and I think everyone should watch it.