Dissecting The Social Dilemma (Part IV--and final)

in The LIFESTYLE LOUNGE6 months ago (edited)

So far, The Social Dilemma’s premise is predicated under the assumption that tech companies, helped by algorithms, can bend people’s wills and beliefs in the directions of interested parties.

Spoiler Alert!

You can check the previous parts of this post here:
Part I
Part II
Part III


These interested parties, whether they sell products or just pursue power and control of masses of people, can pay companies like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to get people with a certain profiles, whom they can bombard with certain kinds of information that will reinforce a given mindset turning them into poppets.


I wonder what the percentage of people, in terms of global users, buying into conspiracy theories and driven to perform crazy acts is. I still think that there is a high percentage of people who do not allow social media to dictate their beliefs and actions. All the videos spreading fake news/speculations were not made by A.I., they were made by humans. They were not spread or shared by A.I., but humans.


Even if an A.I. system serves you the unregulated hate speech in the form of recommendations, don’t you have the power to decide whether you accept it and consume it or not; whether or not you believe it and act upon it? Should we then believe, as the documentary suggests, that people in Hong Kong, for instance, have no real reasons to protest and that all their protests are the result of social media manipulation, thus exonerating the Chinese government of any social or political wrongdoing?

Images of masacres in Myanmar (Burma) perpetrated agains the muslim minority, allegedly as a result of Facebook unregulated hate speech manipulation.

I can understand that one risk (and possibly the ideal outcome for most political interests) of massive unregulated disinformation is creating chaos around the world and disbelief among most social media users, which has been my case. I cannot give credit to any information I get unless I have factual confirmation. That makes me doubt 99% of the information I get. Even some of the information about events that happen in my town can be and has been manipulated by political interests and agent on social media and usually we do not have the time or resources to verify the information. That can cause chronic inaction and indifference towards anything political which would leave the paths open for fanatics and easily manipulated people to play their part.

Italy and Spain are briefly mentioned as examples of places where the far right and the far left (respectively) can gain ground as a result of these issues. However, neither Italy nor Spain have caused the amount of damage authoritarian regimes such as the Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, Iranian, Russian, Chinese, Syrian, just to name a few, have caused. Even though one of the interviewees invited us to imagine earlier in the documentary what social media could do in the hands of dictators, none of these regimes are given their due attention. Venezuela is not even hinted at.


After phrases like “crisis of confidence”, “global assault on democracy,” or intentional destabilization Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is presented as the result of "a campaign powered by social media" (Faceboook, in particualr). Immediately after that, we have Tristan Harris saying that the “tech industry has created the tools to destabilize and erode the fabric of society in every country all at once everywhere”. How would a Brazilian or any other good reader take that ?

I’m not saying Harris thinks that way about Bolsonaro, for instance, but that’s how the documentary constructs the narrative. It makes it look as if only the right-oriented/conservative movements or events are the result of SM manipulation. Facebook CEO is shown by a few seconds; he is not even identified, and no more responses from those parties being pointed at as responsible are presented. We do not get to see what they have to say in their defense, so that we can have a wider view of the issue.


Then, it is affirmed that the whole election manipulation was not about hacking social media or even about influencing who to vote for. Instead it was about creating total chaos and division in society. The images that are shown then, illustrate racial violence resulting from social media manipulation. Are we supposed to ignore the roots of those racial tensions, which go back before social media times?


And here we have the two siblings from the dramatization arrested in the middle of a chaotic protest, not being actual members of any of the involved parties, but presented as examples of what can happen to impressionable youth who allow social media to manipulate them. In my view, according to the development of the movie, the manipulation turned dangerous when it turned political and the political spectrum that is shown as dangerous is the right wing. It is a lame oversight on the part of the makers of this documentary not to show what the left has done worldwide with or without the help of social media manipulation.

Dictators like Ortega, the Castros (Now Diaz Canel) or chávez (now maduro) got to power after promising people equality, justice, and peace; all these rights had been allegedly taken by the right/capitalists. They also promised all minorities to have a voice and that the resources of our planet would be respected so that we could live in harmony with mother earth. They promised indigenous people that their voices would be heard and they promised women, blacks and queer that their causes would be the State's. You just have to browse over the Veneuelan Constitution, probably the most inclusive of all, and then see the reality of a regime that has violated it like no other. These kinds of government are also on social media and they have done a lot from those platforms to clean their image and continue promoting their "loving and hopeful" agendas, showing themselves as victims of media manipulation. The documentary says nothing about it.

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At the end of the film (around min 82) the tone changes towards the positive. They finally recognize that the picture looks one sided and apocalyptic. A list of benefits is provided and the preposterous apologies are issued. They did not mean harm when they created the “like bottom”, technology can work magic, etc. “It is the business model that has a problem.”

The problem, according to the film is the lack of regulation, rules, or fair competition and companies acting as de facto governments. It is a fact that companies cannot regulate themselves; also that there are no laws to regulate digital privacy.

It is argued then that the problem with social media is somehow related with the environmental problem: Things (trees, whales) are worth more dead than alive. Has it not always been like that, way before computers were invented? That being said, the idea that we are the tree, or the whale is a scary one. I guess we can all agree that “our attention can be mined. We are more profitable to a corporation if we’re spending time staring at a screen, staring at an ad than if we were living our lives in a rich way”.


Thus, corporations use all the A.I. resources to make us look at what they want, not at what we should find valuable. However, at the end the documentary suggests that choices can be made; programmers can change codes to stop the attention extraction model. They suggest that massive public pressure, through the very technologies that have created the problem is imperative. Now, that’s a dilemma.


Even though the interviewees show some optimism about the changes that must be made to make technology humane, it seems that, like any other human activity that has gone wrong, it will take a miracle for any significant utopian change to take place. In the mean time I believe human will should be exercised and validated. Many of the things that the documentary shows as manipulations are actually events materialized by human actions resulting from contrasting ideas and ideals with their realities. A change of an authoritarian government, for instance, cannot be contingent to an ideological media agenda to be labeled as real or fake, and therefore resulting from economic or political interests.

Bottom-line Tips (as collected from all the interviewees):

  • Uninstall apps (social media, news, etc.).
  • Turn off notifications (of things that are not timely and important).
  • Disable search history.
  • Never accept a video recommended to you, always choose.
  • Fact-check before sharing, consult the source, do the extra Google (but isn’t Google the problem?).
  • Get exposed to different sources of information, to people you may disagree with.
  • Don’t allow children to be on social media (I couldn't agree more).
  • All devices out of the bedroom.
  • No social media until HS (16 years of age at least)
  • Negotiate a time budget with your children
  • If you want to be a radical: "Delete your social media accounts so that we can have a societal conversation that is not bounded by manipulation engines".
  • Go out and see the world for yourself, not through mediated sources (I wonder how big our scope would be. They are assuming everybdy can afford traveling around their countries, or even the world).

Can you follow all their suggestions? What do you think the results would be?

My rating of The Social Dilemma: 5/10


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