The Social Dilemma

There’s a recently released Netflix documentary called “The Social Dilemma” that’s been going somewhat viral and has made its way into Netflix’s list of trending videos.

The documentary is more or less an attack on social media platforms (mostly Facebook) and how they’ve steadily been contributing to tearing apart society for the better part of the last decade. There’s interviews with a number of former top executives from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest (to name a few) and they explain how sites have used algorithms and AI to increase users’ engagement, screen time, and addiction (and therefore profits), while leading to unintended negative consequences (the rise of confirmation bias, fake news, cyber bullying, etc). There’s a lot of great information presented, none of which is that surprising for data scientists or those who have done even a little bit of research on social media.

In a way, it painted the practice of data science in a negative light, or at least how social media is unregulated (which I do agree it should be). In spite of that, I think it did an awesome job of distilling this crisis for non-tech folks and illustrating how the ‘models’ and profiling works. Even then, most people have a knee-jerk reaction to the insinuation that they could possibly be vulnerable to these exploitative designs that are explored in this documentary.

There’s no magic bullet here. Healing the damage would require a dramatic education overhaul of some sort; more universal literacy in computer history and science, more care for mental wellbeing and attention to emotional intelligence and more literacy in the methods of persuasion and product design. A large portion of the Mission Heights’ digital passport is dedicated to some of these areas, but of course, more can always be done.

I highly encourage everyone to watch it. One of the guys featured, Tristan Harris, heads the Centre for Humane Technology and runs a popular podcast called “Your Undivided Attention“. In this podcast, he discusses more in-depth potential solutions to the challenges presented in the movie.