If you work in the media industry – social media in particular – and like me have recently watched Netflix’s latest trending docudrama The Social Dilemma, you may have been left feeling a little uneasy about the industry and your role within it. The hour and a half critique of social media is a lengthy narrative around how the big tech firms are manipulating us. One publication even describes it as ‘A horrifyingly good doc about how social media will kill us all’. Dramatic perhaps, however the documentary is certainly thought-provoking and will make you reflect on your own social media habits.
Social media’s influence on politics is a big focus and how the algorithms ingrained in social platforms, can so easily perpetuate political polarisation is explored. The basic premise being that if you are of a certain political persuasion or belief, you will only become more polarised as ‘the algorithm’ serves you more videos you like, or agree with, reaffirming your view – a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.
Something we are all familiar with is social media’s addictive nature and how psychology had been applied when creating the platforms, in order to make them as addictive as possible. One in every five minutes spent online is now on social media, something I am sure we can all relate to.
On initial viewing the film did make me feel a little uncomfortable about social media. However, after having properly digested the content, and once the dramatic gloss had worn off, I couldn’t help feeling that this docudrama was in fact much more drama than documentary.
The argument that social media is causing political polarisation is somewhat over simplistic as it neglects the fact that we as humans can make conscious decisions about the videos we choose to watch, and the information we choose to believe. I don’t have the word count to get into a fake news and misinformation discussion, but ultimately, how different is choosing to watch certain political videos on Facebook, compared to choosing to buy a particular newspaper that aligns more closely with your own views? The fact remains that freewill and free choice do still exist.
The economic model used by social media firms; funded by advertisers, is always portrayed as negative, whereby users are taken advantage of and their data is being sold to the highest bidder. When as actually, the model provides a very efficient, free-market solution to funding, making social platforms free and accessible to everyone across the world. Providing a place for people to connect and have social interaction in a world that has diminishing social opportunities. We need social media now, more than ever to help fulfil our most basic social needs.