The Tech Companies and "The Social Dilemma"

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED VIEWING: “The Social Dilemma”, a Netflix documentary. 

Some months ago, Theron and I decided to splurge and get Netflix. We still limit our viewing, by necessity. But our greatest discovery, when we DO watch, has been the documentaries. “The Thirteenth” is a fantastic example: a documentary exploring issues of race in our country, historically and politically, and how some elements of the corrosive systemic racism that continues to pervade our culture, our laws and our perceptions stand in stark contrast to the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment, that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” One major example of this (there are many) is the “for-profit” private prison system, and the way it preys upon people of color, in conjunction with alleged “law and order” policies designed as a smokescreen for their real intention of targeting minorities, perpetuating oppression and providing profit for prison shareholders and cheap labor for corporate entities). Very well done and an absolute MUST SEE. 

Last night, I watched another MUST SEE: “The Social Dilemma”, about how the giant tech companies – Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. - are continuously collecting data on all of us who use the internet, related to virtually everything we do, say, search, buy, listen to, where we go, etc. etc., and using their profit / ad-driven algorhythms and prediction models to calculate ways of getting us to spend more time onscreen (so they can sell more ads, of course). Some of you will say, “Well, YEAH – no kidding, Susan. We know that already.” I suppose most of us have a pretty clear sense that this is happening, and we certainly know there is a UNIVERSE of false information out there, feeding the division and polarization we see happening – not just here, but around the world. But how many of us really understand, with absolute clarity, just how dangerous and destabilizing this has really become for our democracy, and democracies around the world, as well as our ability to respond to climate change, Covid-19 and other major crises? 

Our entire worldview as individuals is subtly being “shaped” (aka manipulated) by the information we see - or don’t see – based on these massive computer models that don’t care about accountability, or ethics, or some common, fundamental truth, but rather treat ALL information – true or false – as fodder for your inclinations, as indicated by the data collected about you, to lure you onto their platforms for longer and longer time periods. How often do many of us – myself included - look at our “like-minded” friends with bewilderment about the “other (political) side”, and observe that it seems “THOSE people are living in an alternate universe”? Well, guess, what? They really, truly are - thanks to these algorhythms, and the information they are receiving, shaped to their data set. Chilling. 

This applies to ALL of us, to the extent that we are vulnerable to suggestion, or willing to go down those time-draining rabbit holes, to scroll and chat endlessly, chase some “conspiracy theory” or buy into whatever we’re being “sold” without fact-checking or engaging in some measure of critical thinking about it - or in many cases, even recognizing that it’s happening. “Pizzagate” was one such example that made national news, when a man showed up at a pizzeria with an assault rifle to “free the children” from the basement of a pizzeria where, according to some false source, there was a pedophile ring run by Democrats, engaging in unspeakable acts. Pure fiction, but this man nearly created another mass shooting because he believed it. Thankfully, he was arrested before the damage was done. Of course , the BLM protests are another critical area where social media exacerbates our divisions and our understanding of what’s real vs. what is agenda-driven propaganda. 

“The Social Dilemma” explores our deepening addiction to social media, the horrifying concurrent increase in pre-teen and teen depression and suicide rates as well as the distortions in our social systems and ability to communicate, the huge threat posed to all of us as we no longer are able to find common ground on which to even have a dialogue about the biggest challenges facing our species. 

Even having some idea that this is happening, I was alarmed by the extent of it, and by the growing number of people within that tech industry who are sounding the alarms and PLEADING for greater accountability and regulation on these industries before they destroy the very fabric of our society and our ability to survive. We think we’re so smart, but smart people fall for stupid lies and misperceptions all the time. Now it has literally become a matter of life and death.

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