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Thoughts on The Social Dilemma

clara profile image Clara ・2 min read

If you ever felt like you're addicted to social media or you're just unhappy with how much time you spend on social media, this documentary is for you:

The Social Dilemma touches upon several topics concerning problems with social media as we know it today reaching from the effects it has on kids and preetens to how it is shaping society at large - think about the influence on elections or the ever growing gap between supporters of opposing political parties. On top of that it also explains why the networks enforce this behaviour - all by interviewing (former) engineers and employees of Google, Facebook & co.

Here are some of my thoughts:

The extend of the problem

Even though I work in the industry, and I know how that the social networks try to keep you on their sites as long as possible (think about why instagram stories are only available 24h), I wasn't aware of the extend of those algorithms. Somehow this was a real eye opener and I cannot get this thought out of my head while scrolling through my feeds.

Effect on kids and teens

Showing the effects of social media use on preteens with a graph that showed that rate of sucides in preteens increased a grueling 150% since 2010 left me in shock. I myself sometimes get sucked into the always beautiful faces on instagram, getting insecure about myself but I know this is not reality. I cannot imagine being their age and their idols are these picture perfect influencer. I am very much in favor of the bill that was just proposed in the UK, which suggests to mark photoshopped images as such (source )

Dividing society

Due to the social media reinforcement bubble, everyone sees there own opinion reinforced in social networks, making opposing views unbelieveable and hence eradicating healthy discussion. It even goes so far that different truths are being created.
When asked what the immediate dangers are resulting from this, one interviewee answered: "civil war". This was another part of the movie that left me shocked, but not surprised after seeing demonstrations all around the world getting more violent.


I am curious to hear what you think:
What are your thoughts on the documentary?
What are your ideas on how to solve these problems?

PS: The movie's website also offers tips and further resources on how to deal with the harms of exploitative tech. My favourite short hack: Remove notifications - I only allow email and a few other apps to directly notify me, and it has increased my productivity immensly.

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Clara

@clara

Fullstack Developer and Coding Teacher 👩‍💻

Discussion

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I don't think humans were really prepared for what it would be like to have unfettered access to the entire world's communication. We're communal animals, our brains evolved to manage a few hundred people in our local community. Suddenly we're thrust into this endless chasm of noise and imagery. Of course it will be overwhelming.

The main danger I see with social media is how it messes with our emotions. It blunts our emotions because we don't get real feedback about how our words are making other people feel, so we don't care as much. It amplifies voices to large numbers of people by posting to viewers we would never share with in real life. It creates an emotional hook that reinforces our interaction with the site and homogenizes and commoditizes the feedback from others into a single button (a like button, a star). This is not how our emotions work in any natural way and our brains aren't really prepared to deal with it.

A good rule of thumb I've found for notifications is, if it wasn't created by a real person trying to get in touch with you directly (i.e. a text or chat message), you should probably turn it off.

 

I like the rule for notifications! Well put.

I think you make a good point saying that it messes with our emotions! Do you think there is a way social networks can address this problem? Remove like buttons?

Another thought I had concerned teaching social media behaviour. It seems like people forget their manners once online. Examples reach from extremes like hate speach to mild versions - I can only think of users asking instagram followers very private questions i.e. concerning pregnancy and so on, something they would never to face to face. Because the boundaries seem so low, they just try and see what works, not respecting their counterpart. And I wonder if that is something that can be taught like social rules/manners. In the same way we could teach how to deal with

unfettered access to the entire world's communication.
So everyone can learn how to deal with the overflow of information.

 

I think figuring out some way to instill empathy in users is really important. Most of the time on social media we are interacting with a picture, a profile, or even just a username, and we don't treat them like a real person who deserves respect and forgiveness. It's kind of like driving. We see the car, not the person in the car, and so social behavior feels more aggressive when you're driving.

As far as the addictive aspects are concerned, companies aren't encouraged to make it less addictive, and it helps their bottom line to keep you hooked. Turning off notifications is a great start because it puts you in control of when you want to interact with the app, and it stops the lure from pulling you back in when you didn't really want to be.

 

I think there's a way to reduce the harmful effects of social media for most people by a simple tuning of what the default views are for users.

For starters, the default home view should a chronological, in-network feed -- meaning you would see things in the order they happen, and only from people you know. None of this "friends-of-friends-of-friends" nonsense, and even less of this "algorithmically-defined-visibility" junk.

The user would be required to take the extra step of navigating to a "discover" tab to have the algorithm try to keep their attention.

Twitter and Facebook are the obvious examples here. I refuse to even use Twitter for the simple fact that my feed is inundated with stuff that isn't even remotely close to what I follow (because I only follow a dozen or so things).

Facebook's algorithm is so backwards that I don't find out about things from my circles until days after they've already happened because they're too busy sending me conspiracy garbage and autoplay videos that were shared by a distant "friends" random acquaintance.

Instagram is a little better, although they've recently changed how their home page works too, which is equally infuriating.

If we put the onus on the user to seek out the algorithm, then we put ourselves in a better place regarding mental health, while still balancing the rights of companies looking to innovate. The goal shouldn't be to kill these services, it should be to regulate them to reduce the harmful effects, while preserving the helpful ones.

 

I totally agree! I only use Twitter in the "latest tweets first" mode! It reduces at least some of the noise.
And I also don't want to villify social media networks in general. I think their initial ideas are so great and create so many good things!

The user would be required to take the extra step of navigating to a "discover" tab to have the algorithm try to keep their attention.

Unfortunately, this doens't work for me. I still get caught by the algorithm on instagram's discover tab to an extend that it's hard to close the app :D

 

Unfortunately, this doens't work for me. I still get caught by the algorithm on instagram's discover tab to an extend that it's hard to close the app :D

I'm personally okay with this, as this now becomes a conscious choice by you.

I shouldn't be bombarded with suggested content immediately to the point where my actual network is pushed into oblivion by the latest teen craze or conspiracy theory.

The problem then moves away from being an issue with the social networks, and becomes one about us, which we deal with through education.