Dissecting The Social Dilemma

in The LIFESTYLE LOUNGE8 months ago (edited)

Because of this particular one, everyone seems to be talking about one of the least favorite movie genres: documentaries.

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How did I approach this documentary? With the same skepticism the creators of the tools that are turning us into "voodoo dolls", and who are featured in the film, want us to see social media. The documentary was directed by Jeff Orlowski, produced by Exposure Labs and Argent Pictures, and made available through Netflix, a platform already under scrutiny for building up a menu of content that seems to veer towards a certain liberal or progressive agenda. With all that in mind, the documentary seems a bit contradictory (assuming it is associated with that agenda) because it questions the very platforms that have allowed, say environmentalist groups, to question those who negate human impact on global warming and to gather followers of a green agenda to protest anything that threatens the environment and produce material to counter mainstream narratives.

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Dissecting The Social Dilemma.

In this documentary there is obviously the acknowledgement that Social Media and technology in general, especially that involving Artificial Intelligence, have worked miracles for our generation; as well as the disclaimer that it was not in the minds of the creators of all these tools that serve social media today to serve political or business agendas, manipulate people’s will, alienate them, or create addiction.

A dilemma is supposed to mean a catch-22 kind of problem, where no matter what choice you try to make, you are screwed. The documentary’s conclusions certainly put people in a big dilemma, having to decide whether to stick to social media, knowing well they are being manipulated, or quitting and facing possible ostracism, which in turn will make them more vulnerable to manipulation.

According to Tristan Harris (Google’s former design ethicist), the fundamental problem of social media does not have to do with technology strengths but with human weaknesses. The “spell” Harris talks about we call it witchery in Venezuela. With that term we too have tried to explain or justify the massive passivity of the people that has allowed the Bolivarian revolution to destroy our country and threaten the stability of the whole continent. And here lies the fundamental strength and weakness (depending on how you look at it)of the documentary’s argument: do people have free will? They seem to agree on a big NO. It is as if whatever AI wants us to do we will do.

I can’t help but wonder, does A.I. also impair us to exercise parental control, for instance? How can parents waive their responsibility and, in the name of children’s privacy and independence, allow technology, corporate interest, political agendas, and psychos to take control of their kids?

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The docu-film intersperses interviews and a full-length-movie-like dramatization that provides interesting details about the film’s argument. In the first scenes a teenage girl ignores her mother’s call to help set up the table for supper. She was too absorbed in her phone. The parents look helpless, clueless. A later scene will illustrate this better when after deciding to remove all phones from the table and put them in a time-locked container the parents witness how the same teenage girl smashes the box after just a few minutes. Why can’t a parent control the use their children make of electronic devices? More than a corporate model problem, which is the documentary’s ultimate argument, for me it is a cultural problem. One many cultures around the world have consumed and assimilated from the main content producers, whose products are being sold all over the world in different media formats.

Self-esteem is one of the main issues that comes up in the documentary and I believe that before we blame any algorithm for our kids and some adults' dependence, we should question what we are doing individually and as families to build defenses against digital or real-life manipulation.

Tim Kendall, Facebook’s former Executive, talks about the business model he helped build and which they borrowed from Google. He would later express regret that they knowingly decided to monetize on people's dependence on the platform. But, it still begs the question: don't people still have the will to choose whether or not they care about ads placed in their daily interations? In my mind, the more intrusive an ad is, the less I want that product.

Computer scientist Jaron Lanier (Founding father of Virtual Reality) has a radical solution: delete all social media now! This can and should be done in places with good economies and high human development indexes, where things not only still work, but have improved exponentially: transportation, services such as phone and Internet, free press, etc. Ironically, these are the places where it would be most unlikely for something like that to happen. In places like Venezuela where not a single newspaper is circulating and most online press is censored, where phones and electricity fail constantly and where hyperinflation has made it impossible for people to move around, a measure like that can have devastating effects.

Roger McNamee, a Facebook early investor, Aza Raskin (ex employee at Firefox and Mozilla labs,) among others, highlight that unlike the companies of the past that sold or exchanged tangible products for uses to use or consume, for the mega tech industries of today “the customers are the advertisers; we, [users], are the thing being sold.”

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Jeff Seibert, former Twitter Executive, echoes the concept of “surveillance capitalism”, which is not that new and had been actually anticipated by most sci-fi writers, according to which “everything we do online is being tracked, watched, and measured.” It is a chilling realization, though, to have the certainty revealed by the very Dr Frankensteins that created the monster that looked at us from the other end of the screen, everything we look at and for how long! They basically know our feelings, and based on our habits online, can generate options that seem to us like choices we make, but which are in fact their driving us into predictable places based on our habits and states of mind.

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Sandy Parakilas (Facebook former operation manager) clarifies the old data-sharing assumption:
“It’s not that our data is being sold. They build models that predict our actions, whoever has the best model wins.” Thus, every person connected to this massive AI machinery becomes, in their words, a voodoo doll that is individually manipulated by algorithms.

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These algorithms have three goals: Engagement (keeps you scrolling), Growth (keeps you coming back and inviting more friends), and Advertisement (makes sure that while all that is happening someone is making more money through ads).

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According to this, Lanier argues, this generation, which prioritizes online connection, is being financed by a “sneaky” third party “who is paying to manipulate” whoever gets connected. Communication and cultures ultimately means mere manipulation.
How do they do it? According to Harris, this is not different from magic.

But about that I’ll tell you in the next post because this is getting too long.

Thanks for stopping by

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I need to come back and read this properly. I have not seen it, and not sure I will. Coming back to read in more depth and comment.

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Thanks :)

I am coming back to read this properly!

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Lo veré para poder dar una opinión justa. Gracias por compartir @hlezama. Este tipo de publicaciones ayudan a abrir los ojos. aA veces nos sumergimos en una rutina tipo burbuja y no nos damos cuenta de los agentes externos.

Por supuesto, Eva. El documental vale la pena verlo. Es polémico y será cuestión de tiempo para determinar que tan acertado o bienb intencionado era.

And here lies the fundamental strength and weakness (depending on how you look at it)of the documentary’s argument: do people have free will? They seem to agree on a big NO. It is as if whatever AI wants us to do we will do.

We've been working on this "problem" since at least 2001,

Fascinating. I had not heard of that game. Do the dialogue takes place while people play that game or is it some introduction to the game? I am not into games, so, please excuse my ignorance of how they work.
Now, does your use of quotation marks in problem mean you do not see us as deprived of free will? I want to believe we can always have a say; we can choose whether to believe the fake news or not and whether to act upon it (and how) or not.

The scene is from the end of the game.

Now, does your use of quotation marks in problem mean you do not see us as deprived of free will?

Well, mostly it's not a real "problem" because it's shockingly easy to distinguish FACTS from OPINIONS.

FACTS must be empirically demonstrable and or logically necessary QUANTA (emotionally meaningless).

OPINIONS must be personal, experiential, unfalsifiable, GNOSIS, private QUALIA (emotionally meaningful).

In 23 seconds,

Hahaha. I loved that movie. Did not remember that part, though. Now that you bring it up...
The thing is that in this information age (which in the documentary is called the disinformation age), we have people presenting facts about, say a successful treatment for covid-19, and 5 minutes later we have another source offering fact/stats/cases saying exactly the opposite about said treatment and offering either a different one, based on some more facts or a helpless scenario according to which no treatment works 100% yet. It's very frustrating not to be able to fat-check some of these sources and when we see, especially among the scientific community, this kind of discrepancy we feel really lost.
I know lots of people who have opted for disconnecting themselves from any news or social media feed to just keep their sanity and peace of mind.

I think the whole "problem" is just an excuse for CENSORSHIP.

It would be extremely simple to teach school children the difference between FACTS and OPINIONS.

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Haha. Good point. I'll get to that in the next post. As I mention in Part II of my commentary, it isn't until the main character of the dramatization gets involved in politics that the real tension of the film emerges and there is the implicit suggestion that measures must be taken.
I think that social media has allowed all angles of the political spectrum to express and create communities. Of course, as it happened with the written press and Television, those with more money and power will tilt the boat their way. So, removing the youth from the screen not so much because they may get sick and even hurt themselves, but because they are going to get contaminated by the wrong political ideas (now that other means of communication/sources of information are disapearing or are beings absorbed by SM) may be challenging and counter productive for any political agenda.

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I haven't seen this, and I'm not sure I shall. I do think though, and from other comments, not dissimilar from yours, that the issue remains how people make use of the social media. A healthy skepticism is really important and an awareness of what an online presence means - in every sense of the word. I do also know that if a services is "free", it isn't really. Like a "free lunch" there will always be some sort of quid pro quo and one needs to be alert to what that might be.

I am not in favour of charging for news shared on the social media - as is being proposed in Australia. I am only too aware of the need for free speech and a free media and in countries like yours and mine, we need both. Social media are vital to the dissemination of information for a slew of reasons. The challenge is stopping the spread of fake news which, of course, is much bolstered by a particular US presidential hopeful.

The challenge, when it comes to children is not the children but the parents. That a child gets to a point that violence is used to access cell phones means that there is a deep rooted problem and, IMO, that began with the parents.

Now going to read your second installment!

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