Netflix's "The Social Dilemma" Highlights The Problem With Social Media, But What's The Solution?

Netflix's "The Social Dilemma" Highlights The Problem With Social Media, But What's The Solution?
Netflix/Screenshot

Facebook has responded to Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, saying it “buries the substance in sensationalism”.

The show is currently in Netflix Australia’s top ten list and has been popular around the globe. Some media pundits suggest it’s “the most important documentary of our times”.

The Social Dilemma focuses on how big social media companies manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction to their platforms. It also shows, fairly accurately, how platforms harvest personal data to target users with ads – and have so far gone largely unregulated.

But what are we meant to do about it? While the Netflix feature educates viewers about the problems social networks present to both our privacy and agency, it falls short of providing a tangible solution.

A misleading response

In a statement responding to the documentary, Facebook denied most of the claims made by former Facebook and other big tech company employees interviewed in The Social Dilemma.

It took issue with the allegation users’ data are harvested to sell ads and that this data (or the behavioural predictions drawn from it) represents the “product” sold to advertisers.

“Facebook is an ads-supported platform, which means that selling ads allows us to offer everyone else the ability to connect for free,” Facebook says.

However, this is a bit like saying chicken food is free for battery hens. Harvesting users’ data and selling it to advertisers, even if the data is not “personally identifiable”, is undeniably Facebook’s business model.

The Social Dilemma doesn’t go far enough

That said, The Social Dilemma sometimes resorts to simplistic metaphors to illustrate the harms of social media.

For example, a fictional character is given an “executive team” of people operating behind the scenes to maximise their interaction with a social media platform. This is supposed to be a metaphor for algorithms, but is a little creepy in its implications.

News reports allege large numbers of people have disconnected or are taking “breaks” from social media after watching The Social Dilemma.

But although one of the interviewees, Jaron Lanier, has a book called “10 Reasons To Delete your Social Accounts”, the documentary does not explicitly call for this. No immediately useful answers are given.

Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski seems to frame “ethical” platform design as the antidote. While this is an important consideration, it’s not a complete answer. And this framing is one of several issues in The Social Dilemma’s approach.

Ethical design considers the moral consequences of the design choices in a platform. Ethical design considers the moral consequences of the design choices in a platform. It is design made with the intent to ‘do good’. Shutterstock

The program also relies uncritically on interviews with former tech executives, who apparently never realised the consequences of manipulating users for monetary gain. It propagates the Silicon Valley fantasy they were just innocent geniuses wanting to improve the world (despite ample evidence to the contrary).

As tech policy expert Maria Farell suggests, these retired “prodigal tech bros”, who are now safely insulated from consequences, are presented as the moral authority. Meanwhile, the digital rights and privacy activists who have worked for decades to hold them to account are largely omitted from view.

Behavioural change

Given the documentary doesn’t really tell us how to fight the tide, what can you, as the viewer, do?

Firstly, you can take The Social Dilemma as a cue to become more aware of how much of your data is given up on a daily basis – and you can change your behaviours accordingly. One way is to change your social media privacy settings to restrict (as much as possible) the data networks can gather from you.

This will require going into the “settings” on every social platform you have, to restrict both the audience you share content with and the number of third parties the platform shares your behavioural data with.

In Facebook, you can actually switch off “platform apps” entirely. This restricts access by partner or third-party applications.

Unfortunately, even if you do restrict your privacy settings on platforms (particularly Facebook), they can still collect and use your “platform” data. This includes content you read, “like”, click and hover over.

So, you may want to opt for limiting the time you spend on these platforms. This is not always practical, given how important they are in our lives. But if you want to do so, there are dedicated tools for this in some mobile operating systems.

Apple’s iOS, for example, has implemented “screen time” tools aimed at minimising time spent on apps such as Facebook. Some have argued, though, this can make things worse by making the user feel bad, while still easily side-stepping the limitation.

As a user, the best you can do is tighten your privacy settings, limit the time you spend on platforms and carefully consider whether you need each one.

Legislative reform

In the long run, stemming the flow of personal data to digital platforms will also need legislative change. While legislation can’t fix everything, it can encourage systemic change.

In Australia, we need stronger data privacy protections, preferably in the form of blanket legislative protection such as the General Data Protection Regulation implemented in Europe in 2018.

The GDPR was designed to bring social media platforms to heel and is geared towards providing individuals more control over their personal data. Australians don’t yet have similar comprehensive protections, but regulators have been making inroads.

Last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission finalised its Digital Platforms Inquiry investigating a range of issues relating to tech platforms, including data collection and privacy.

It made a number of recommendations that will hopefully result in legislative change. These focus on improving and bolstering the definitions of “consent” for consumers, including explicit understanding of when and how their data is being tracked online.

If what we’re facing is indeed a “social dilemma”, it’s going to take more than the remorseful words of a few Silicon Valley tech-bros to solve it.The Conversation

About the Authors

Belinda Barnet, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology and Diana Bossio, Lecturer, Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

man and dog in front of giant sequoia trees in California
The Art of Constant Wonder: Thank you, Life, for this day
by Pierre Pradervand
One of the greatest secrets of life is to know how to constantly marvel at existence and at the…
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Horoscope: Week of November 29 - December 5, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
young boy looking through binoculars
The Power of Five: Five Weeks, Five Months, Five Years
by Shelly Tygielski
At times, we have to let go of what is to make room for what will be. Of course, the very idea of…
man eating fast food
It's Not About the Food: Overeating, Addictions, and Emotions
by Jude Bijou
What if I told you a new diet called the "It's Not About the Food" is gaining popularity and…
woman dancing in the middle of an empty highway with a city skyline in the background
Having the Courage to Be True to Ourselves
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Each one of us is a unique individual, and thus it seems to follow that each one of us has a…
Lunar eclipse through colored clouds. Howard Cohen, November 18, 2021, Gainesville, FL
Horoscope: Week of November 22 - 28, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a young boy climbing to the top of a rock formation
A Positive Way Forward Is Possible Even in the Darkest Times
by Elliott Noble-Holt
Falling into a rut doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Even when it can seem like an insurmountable…
woman wearing a crown of flowers staring with an unwavering gaze
Hold That Unwavering Gaze! Lunar and Solar Eclipses November-December 2021
by Sarah Varcas
This second and final eclipse season of 2021 began on 5th November and features a lunar eclipse in…
Reality Checklist for Psychological Maturity
Reality Checklist for Psychological Maturity
by Barbara Berger
Did you ever wonder what characterizes a psychologically mature person? I’ve thought about it a lot…
God Bless Everyone: Imagine All The People Sharing All The World
God Bless Everyone: Imagine All The People Sharing All The World
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
I think it is obvious that our planet Earth and its inhabitants are not all feeling the same amount…
Enthusiasm
Unresolved Issues Are An Energy Drain and Lead to Lack of Enthusiasm for Life
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
There are some mornings where I can't seem to get moving. I am not referring to those mornings when…

Selected for InnerSelf Magazine

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.