I am addicted to using my phone for social media. 

If someone offered me money to cut out all forms of social media and put my phone in a safe for a day, I would simply refuse just because I know I would cave in within 20 minutes. I start my day refreshing my Twitter feed and end my day doing the same thing, as do many of my peers. This is what it’s like being born into the digital age.

I would have never imagined that one day I would rethink the time I spend online. I was scrolling through my social media newsfeed and saw The Social Dilemma trending, so I decided to watch the docu-film. It’s safe to say that my perspective on social media has definitely changed for the worse. 

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 Netflix Documentary which features former senior employees of social media giants such as Google, Facebook and Pinterest who talk about the dangers of social media. Its goal is admirably ambitious: to provide a compelling and insider look of what the business model of the top social media companies is doing to us and the society we live in. 

As a frequent entry on Netflix’s Top 10 list of most popular movies since its September 9 premiere on the platform, The Social Dilemma has been praised for being “possibly the single most lucid, succinct, and profoundly terrifying analysis of social media ever created” by Indiewire

Skyler Gisondo as Ben in The Social Dilemma.
Photo credit: Netflix

The docu-film explores how the Internet’s most popular social media platforms thrive on a business model that tracks users’ behaviour in order to sell targeted ads, which induces addiction in a vicious circle. 

The Social Dilemma is honestly so scary. It’s quite crazy that so many people are unaware of the true dangers behind social media, me included,” shares Jamie Wee, 19, a design student from Temasek Polytechnic.

Persuasive Technology

One of the topics that The Social Dilemma touches on is Persuasive Technology, which involves the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track and predict our behaviours so as to customise our social media feeds to keep us scrolling, or to recommend us similar products to make us buy more. 

“I used to think it was really creepy whenever I would get ads about the things I’ve been talking about, like getting an ad for MAC lipstick when I just messaged my friends about wanting to buy it,” Jamie says. “I would often joke that someone was tracking my phone – knowing that someone is in fact tracking my phone makes me feel so weird.”

Artificial intelligence personified as humans that track our clicks.
Photo credit: Netflix

“I’m going to be more wary of my digital footprint, and definitely be more conscious about the time I spend on social media. I won’t lose to my phone tracker!”

Snapchat Dysmorphia 

Another topic mentioned in The Social Dilemma is the phenomenon of “Snapchat Dysmorphia”, where people, especially teenagers, experience a sense of disconnection between their actual appearance and how they look like with the built-in filters and beautifying features in their apps. 

Studies show that there is a clear link between negative body image and social media usage, where many teens experience feelings of self-judgment and insecurities about their appearance.

Personally, I feel strongly about this topic as I am one of the many users who suffer from Snapchat Dysmorphia (or Instagram Dysmorphia for that matter) from time to time. On days when I’m feeling extra low and not looking my best, I find that going on Instagram is the worst thing to do.

Furthermore, I know of people who also can’t help feeling a disconnect between their persona on social media and how they are in real life.

“When you see your online self looking all happy and perfect when you’re feeling anything but that, it makes you feel even worse about yourself. As if you’re being a hypocrite or a liar,” says Cheyanne Tham, 19, an Instagram user. “Instagram is so toxic to see especially when you’re going through a low point in your life, be it physically or mentally.” 

Sophia Hammons as Isla is in constant need of approval from her social media followers. 
Photo credit: Netflix

“Snapchat Dysmorphia is definitely something that cannot be helped, and also cannot be changed overnight. It is more important that people keep in mind that no one is perfect, and that social media is pretty much all a lie,” says Cheyanne.

Digital Pacifier

Additionally, the docu-film also pointed out how social media has been used as a digital pacifier for children and adults alike. More people are increasingly losing the ability to cheer themselves up after a bad day by doing what they used to enjoy, whether it’s hanging out with friends, exercising or going to places of interests. More are simply counting on social media to distract themselves.

Ben is sucked into the social media blackhole and trapped in an algorithm-driven filter bubble.
Photo credit: Netflix

“I used to exercise a lot whenever I was stressed,” Cheyanne shares. “But ever since I entered polytechnic I’ve been so much busier with school work and now I’d rather unwind by using social media.”

Jamie adds that she used to enjoy drawing but the hobby died out once she realised that social media was a more effective and convenient way to distract herself from her problems.

Fake News

The docu-film also highlights the grave consequences that come with the spread of fake news on social media, especially in societies with existing fault lines along race, religion, class and political identity. 

“Fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than true news,” Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, stressed in the film. He feels social media giants should not be allowed to run on a “disinformation-for-profit business model” by allowing “unregulated messages to reach anyone for the best price”. 

Fake news is a dangerous tool when being used to manipulate the masses. One incident that the film mentions is the flow of fake news regarding Covid-19, where people claim that ‘drinking water can flush out the virus from the human body’ and that ‘Covid-19 can be contracted by eating Chinese food’. The film also shows how fake news can be used to propagate political agenda, when Facebook was used as a platform spreading disinformation and hate speech to incite real-world violence in Myanmar against the Rohingya. 

Adam Lee, 17, an avid Twitter user shares: “Twitter is crazy when it comes to trending fake news and spreading misinformation. I remember when everyone was talking about Pizzagate and all the theories surrounding it.” 

He continues: “I remember for a week or so, Pizzagate conspiracy theories was all I looked into as it started appearing on my Twitter feed and other platforms was also recommending me content related to the conspiracy theories.” 

“I still use Twitter when it comes to getting updates from the trends that I follow but I avoid topics regarding news”, he says. 

Ben attending an extremist rally after being shown conspiracy-style posts online.
Photo credit: Netflix 

Social media causes polarisation by feeding users with content that is closely aligned with their preferences and beliefs. Over time, users risk developing a false sense of assurance that everyone agrees with them.

The documentary concludes with the several featured technology experts expressing their fears over artificial intelligence’s role in social media and the influence these platforms have on society. 

“It’s very hard to find a solution to this problem to make social media more ethical”, shares Jia Ying, 21, a student studying Consumer Behaviour. “From what I’ve learnt in school, I think the key to making social media more ethical is having transparency with the audience. Tell them exactly how they are being targeted for ads and how much of what they share is not private.”

Edited By: Anmi Chou Shigeta
Proofread by: Winny Wint Htae