By Jason Sethre
Fillmore County Journal
I don’t often endorse movies in my column. But, when I do, it is with great conviction.
One of my brothers-in-law recently told me about a Netflix movie titled The Social Dilemma.
He said he sat down with his two teenage children and watched the movie, as he wanted them to see it as well.
I was curious, so I watched it, too.
Let me just say I wasn’t surprised, but it was interesting to see how my gut feelings were affirmed.
The movie, cited as a Netflix original documentary, includes an eclectic mix of interviews with former executives and software engineers from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram, among others.
From these interviews, the creators of these platforms talk about how their goals have conflicted with what is in the best interest of us as individuals and as a society. Many of them left the industry because they didn’t agree with how users were treated like commodities. Those users would be you, me, and anybody else utilizing social media.
As noted in the documentary, in an interview with social psychologist Jonathon Haidt, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, “There has been a gigantic increase in depression, and anxiety for American teenagers which began right around between 2011 and 2013.”
He continued to share how there has been a 62% increase in girls age 15 to 19 cutting or self-harming themselves since 2009. Among pre-teens, age 10 to 14, that number has increased by 189%. “Even more horrifying, we’re seeing the same pattern with suicide,” said Haidt.
According to Haidt, these patterns point to social media, with a whole generation of kids blighted by this new technology. He went on to say that it has left them afraid to take normal risks like learning to drive or asking a boy or girl out on a date.
It’s as simple as a group of girls posting a picture of themselves on social media having a little party, excluding other girls who thought they were part of that group. The idea of cliques in schools has been going on forever, but with social media the experience is amplified. We have an entire generation that is more anxious, more fragile, and more depressed, as they desperately seek approval on these addictive platforms.
And, then if we jump over to politics, we can see how social media has destroyed relationships between friends and family members. I personally avoid engaging in political discussions on social media, because I feel like personal interaction leads to better results. Social media provides a toxic environment where anything goes. People say things to each other that they most likely would never say to that person face-to-face. Social media thrives on our emotions – good, bad, and ugly. With algorithms, the engineers of these platforms guide us toward an echo-chamber view of the world. They have constructed tools that tear us apart.
Social media websites like Facebook have provided a platform for “fake news,”, misinformation and disinformation. I often shake my head when I see the links to websites referenced and shared as “news”, and these websites are obviously full of propaganda for politically-slanted agendas. Social media is fraught with questionable information endorsed by people you know.
The world definitely doesn’t need anymore polarization, but social media companies financially profit from our divisiveness.
As this documentary points out, people who don’t even know each other hate each other because of their views expressed on social media. And, some of this hatred has led to violence and even resulted in death.
The stark reality is that we are being manipulated by social media companies.
After watching The Social Dilemma, I feel like every parent and their teenage children should see this movie. I would go as far as to say that this movie should be a part of the human development curriculum in schools; to be viewed by students in health and life skills classes.
If we care about our future generations, we need to take a serious look at how social media is impacting our lives.
There’s no doubt that good things have resulted from social media. I’m not going to deny that. But, at what point will the bad outweigh the good?