The Social Dilemma

Source: Vanity (available for reuse)

If this title caught your eye as you too have seen the consuming, slow-burner-style documentary it refers to, then you must already be aware of the dilemma this article speaks of. For those who have not seen the latest social media-focused Netflix Documentary presented by Tristan Harris (ex-Google employee) – The Social Dilemma – which in itself sounds like the unsettling sequel to the 2010 David Fincher movie based on Mark Zuckerberg – The Social Network, this is our problem: “The social dilemma is that we, all three billion of us online, are forced to use technology platforms that are not aligned with public or social good.”

How are they not aligned with “public/social good” do you ask? For starters, our most consumed social media platforms, being the Facebooks, the Tiktoks, and the Instragrams of the world are made to be addictive and to create life habits that involve them, which isn’t ideal. These platforms crave your attention, and what better way to get it then by growing the impulse within you to check your phone all the time; whether it’s for just one messages on the lock screen, to eagerly reply back at the sound of that ‘ping’ you know too well comes from Snapchat, to refresh your email like pulling on a lever at a casino, like your friends pictures, look for quick entertainment while waiting, etc. etc. You may argue that search engines such as Google Search or messaging apps such as Viber are just tools that better our life, but no tool demands to be used the way these “tools” do, which are in truth are run by massive corporations looking to make money. Look at it this way: only two markets in the world widely refer to their customers as ‘consumers’; social media platforms – and the illicit drug market.

As suggested, while the owners  and founders of these private companies (Zuckerberg, Bezos, Wojcicki) may have conceived their revolutionary ideas with the goal of bringing the world together, running these large businesses requires a lot of money, and this money is paid by (in part) by advertisers. It is a common misconception that social networks “sell out data” to other companies, be it Coca-Cola trying to sell a new beverage or whoever it is who wants world wide exposure. No, our birthdays and home addresses in themselves are not being sold, but rather a collection of similar hyper detailed “consumer” profiles laced with the addictive patterns these platforms have created within us. By tracking when we open certain apps, how long we spend on those apps, what we do on those apps, who we follow on those apps, our age group our interests our financial situation our political stance; social media platforms are able to pin-point to a T when we will be online, and what we will want. In this way, it is not our data that is sold to advertisers, but the guarantee that an advertiser’s promotion will be seen by X amount of people at X time and these people show evidence of being interested in the advertiser’s product. Thus, your attention (which could be dedicated to something more productive) is being sold to the highest bidder. Will it be a misguided code you didn’t really need? or that new computer mouse you were talking about earlier…

And there’s a darker side to this problem. As the saying goes “If something is free, you are the product,” and here, we, the product, are more valuable to the way these platforms operate when we are addicted as we spend more time on them, narcissist as we will engage in platforms centred around appearances, polarised as heavy opinions means more engagement which equals more money for the platforms, mis-informed as mis-information travels twice as fast and the truth, reaching more people, satisfying more advertisers, and so on and so forth. The question of whether social platforms influence current politics and democratic elections is no longer. Nor is the question of whether or not social media as it stands is currently damaging the lives and social ability of our youth, with gen x being the first to be introduced to social platforms in early primary school. If we want to protect the mental health of all social platform users and the integrity of our democracies, changes need to be made regarding the social responsibility these platforms hold. Never before have so few people had the capability of changing the habits of 3 billion people, and so we should look at this dilemma accordingly.

If you now find yourself the edge of your chair (or simply on edge) after reading this rundown of the very pertinent issues presented in this documentary, I do recommend you watch the full version, and keep a look out for those addictive impulses you may have towards social media. Realise the unrealistic standards social media may force on young women, the better ways by which you could be using your time, the amount of pardon-my-French crap you may be consuming; and navigate the wide world web accordingly.



‘The Social Dilemma’s’ Tristan Harris on How to Make Social Media Less Addictive’. Published September 28th, 2020. Accessed October 20th, 2020 on

Netflix: ‘The Social Dilemma’. Released September 9th, 2020. Viewed September 10th, 2020.