‘Body dysmorphia, depression, even suicide—are some of the deleterious effects that social media use can have on our children, especially on teenagers.’
MY family and I love a good scare, which is why we scour Netflix and other streaming platforms for good horror movies. Admittedly, the scariest thing we’ve seen lately is not a horror movie, but a documentary titled “The Social Dilemma.”
Anyone who has a social media account should really watch this, and pay close attention. It is peppered with interviews from people who worked for tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest in the early days of these platforms, and gives an in-depth view of how the social networks have evolved through the years. Sure, social media can be fun, primarily as a platform to keep in touch with friends and family wherever they are in the world. It’s nice to see photos of your cousin’s newborn baby in Vancouver, or your grade school best friend’s birthday party in Dubai. It’s also made seeing our loved ones who are working in other countries like the Middle East or Singapore a lot easier, compared to the age of buying phone cards for long-distance calls to keep in touch. But, as the documentary shows, there is a high cost to all of this—something unseen in social media networks that are supposed to be “free.”
As the documentary explains, everything that we do on social media is tracked, recorded, filed away. Every click, every like, every page we visit is stored away and analyzed by the algorithms that run these platforms. The algorithms build a model of you—what you like reading, what you like watching, who you like interacting with—so it can predict more accurately the next thing you will do before you even think of it. Part of why it does this is so it can send you content that you like—in my case, more cute cat photos and rescue stories—and, send you content that you might like, based on the stuff you’ve already read and opened. For example (and you can try this at home), you can search “moon landing is a hoax” on YouTube and click on a random video. You don’t have to watch it, you can close and just walk away. But the next time you open the YouTube landing page, you’ll notice that there are now suggested videos along the same lines—it could be more on moon landing hoax content, but it can also push other conspiracy-type videos for you to watch.
The name of the game is to keep you on your screen for as long as possible—this means a higher likelihood of you seeing paid ads, which generates revenue for these social media companies. We’re not talking about just paid ads for soap or kitchenware or the latest ab roller here, but just about anything that anyone wants to promote using social media. And yes, this includes conspiracy theories, flat earth movements, and everything that used to belong just in the pages of the National Enquirer that are now available on these platforms.
The Social Dilemma also shows the dangerous effects of social media can have on our children and teens—and why we must actively limit their use (or keep them off it, if possible) of these networks. Body dysmorphia, depression, even suicide—are some of the deleterious effects that social media use can have on our children, especially on teenagers.
As if these were not enough, those interviewed for the documentary attribute the divisive political climate in many countries to politicians using social media. Brazil, the United States, even here in our country—politicians have been effectively widening the divide between their supporters and the rest of the populace by continuing to serve their brand of propaganda through the major platforms.
One resource person in the documentary rightly pointed out that political propaganda isn’t new, and neither is it the creation of the social networks. However, the power of propaganda has been amplified because social media has made it very easy and very cheap for bad actors to disseminate these messages, and to spread them widely, well beyond the reach of any traditional media apparatus.
The documentary itself is yet another warning sign for all of us—either we realize how beholden we are to our smart phones (“What’s the first thing you do in the morning—get up to pee or check your phone?” one resource person asked) and try to fight the behavioral change that the use has insidiously created in our lives, or surrender completely and choke on the consequences.
This one is a must-see, dear millennials and fillennials.