by Aero Cavalier / Staff Reporter
“The Social Dilemma” (2020) recently celebrated its first birthday, and like many of us, it spent it in the midst of a pandemic. When the docudrama was released in January 2020, it was simply meant to be a critical analysis of social media and our collective dependence on technology. But little did director Jeff Orlowski know that the world would be going entirely online in only a couple months.
The documentary tackles what it calls “the problem beneath all other problems,” citing examples of a decrease in positive mental health practices, increased rates of misinformation and increased rates of discrimination. I’m not denying these to be accurate statements: social media can have negative effects. On the surface level, the documentary tells a very compelling tale of the horrors of social media and the included dramatization provides concrete examples.
My issue with the docudrama, however, is exactly that. There’s no nuance, no elaboration. The present one side of the story with no account of other external factors. The documentary’s creators pointed at social media and said “this is the cause.” The problem is that social media isn’t the only cause, and to insinuate that comes from a place of privilege and ignorance.
All of the problems that the researchers, with Stacy Picullel, Daniel Wright and Sarah Keo approving the information, tie to social media existed well before social media and would exist long afterwards if social media were to ever disappear. Mental health issues, misinformation and discrimination are on par with death and taxes: they’re inevitable.
The most irreconcilable problem by far is the total lack of individual accountability. This is one of the most important elements of behavior that the documentary opted out of including. We are not all brainless, hopeless drones that live only for the sweet validation of a “like” from our old friend from middle school. To imply that, to me, is more detrimental to society than social media itself.
Children who develop an unhealthy attachment to technology are being poorly parented; it’s the fault of the parents for allowing their child access to technology at all times. It’s not technology’s fault that it’s addictive, it’s parents’ faults for not controlling their child’s screen time.
People who are receiving misinformation clearly aren’t doing their own research (in an age where every resource is literally in your back pocket), and choosing to believe whatever fits their own agenda. If someone believes a misinformed news source, I’m not going to blame Twitter or Facebook for presenting an article –– I’m going to blame the person for not questioning and cross-examining the content.
The particular portion that really lit a fire in me is the implication that social media is responsible for people joining extremist groups or developing discriminatory ideologies. Although extremist groups may be easier to access through social media rather than carrier pigeons, the blame for joining fringe conspiracy theory or hate groups lies solely on the individual.
In sum, although “The Social Dilemma” made some good points, it operates under the assumption that everyone who uses social media is a hapless, bumbling idiot. Although there are plenty of stupid people on the internet, there are enough people who know how to responsibly monitor the quantity and content of the media they are consuming. We need to start holding people more accountable for their own actions. As much as I dislike large corporations, they aren’t forcing you to consume their content, and they shouldn’t be the babysitters of what people can or cannot do.
3 out of 10 Torches