It was FOMO that made me watch The Social Dilemma.
My family, friends and even my colleagues were telling me to watch this Netflix docudrama and I finally gave in to my fear of missing out and sat down for an evening to find out what the fuss was about.
As a digital native and someone who is fairly active on social media, I had my reservations about watching it as I wasn’t really looking forward to a show that only affirms what I already know about how technology has taken control of my life.
Like many others in our connected world, I’m used to dealing with advertisements linked to my recent searches flooding my social media feed (oh by the way, if you don’t want that to happen, there are ways of getting around it.).
“So what’s new then?”, I asked myself.
After finishing watching the show, however, I got to thinking about how I should be more conscious about using social media.
The show’s IMDB page offers a simple synopsis: “Explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.” But it is a little more exciting than that: Essentially, the documentary focuses on three main themes: tech addiction, social engineering and surveillance capitalism.
In short, we are addicted to social media, Big Tech has created algorithms to find out what we like and feed it back to us, and there are unknown players who utilise this data to subtly change our world view for potentially evil purposes.
Or as one expert in the documentary says ominously: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
Recognise how social media threatens mental health
Our need to connect and interact with others is unavoidable and such social instincts give sense and meaning to our world. Social media has the power to optimise that connection of people and this is what causes the addiction.
We may not be conscious of it but posting on social media and getting approval through likes, thumbs up and hearts is an important social signal that makes us feel good.
However having such social approval dosed to us every five minutes only serves to create greater desire for instant gratification and conflate that with value and truth. The real truth is, almost like a drug-induced high, such short-term brittle popularity can leave us more vacant and empty when it disappears. And it will.
To constantly chase social approval and equate our worth solely on external validation creates an anxious, depressed and fragile population that will go to further and further lengths to stay popular.
Is there a need to add such unnecessary pressure to our already-challenging lives? More importantly, do we see this? And if we do, what are we going to do about it?
Accept that humans are biased and can be blinded
Social media is an effective tool but it is a double-edged sword. After all, chances are, you’re reading this article on your phone or laptop after seeing it on Facebook or receiving an alert on Telegram.
If taken in the right direction, it can get the right messages from genuine agencies to reach interested users. On the flip side, the same tool can be used for a nefarious purpose to create culture wars that destabilise and erode the fabric of society.
With its reach and its speed, social media has the power to amplify news exponentially. Unfortunately, this has led to the acceleration of fake news. We used to trust certain sources of information that we were brought up to believe in. But now with the sheer influx of information, people are getting more confused over what is real or not.
For example, there are people who believe in the flat Earth theory, or deny climate change, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Why is that so?
It is because we are isolating ourselves in our little echo chambers and that makes us vulnerable to manipulation. By limiting our information sources to those we know and having our preconceived beliefs fed back to us at an increasing volume, we can get sucked into rabbit holes of subculture, conspiracy theories, and radical political perspectives without realising it.
Like an expert says in the documentary: “It’s not that highly motivated propagandists haven’t existed before… It’s that the platforms make it possible to spread manipulative narratives with phenomenal ease and without very much money.”
Other stories you might like
It is up to us to wake up from this illusion and accept that we need to have a shared understanding of reality. We need to be able to accept different points of views that may not be in line with what we think and to be open to debate, and to be proven wrong.
It can be hard to see our own blindspots but we pay the price of being manipulated if we don’t learn to process information rationally.
Take control and be the change you wish to see
Technology is here to stay and will continue to evolve in a way to change our lives – for better or for worse. It is now time to make a conscious decision on how we wish to use it.
Studies have shown that keeping it real and posting authentically is healthier than trying to keep up an idealised version of our life story.
It leaves us with a dilemma though, how do we exist in an AI-driven world where we could be unwitting pawns led by greater players? We now know that we shouldn’t immerse ourselves in social media; neither can we withdraw from it totally. The key, as in all things, is moderation.
With conversations over social media and how it affects our mental health and how our well being should be of utmost priority, it is time for all of us to start thinking. What are we using social media for? Why are we using it? How can the world be made better with it?
Much of the warning bells sounded by the documentary ring true to me, and it sends a persuasive message based on many things we already sort of suspected but never really put together.
The solutions offered do seem a little optimistic though: Regulate the industry and regulate ourselves. Easy to say but not so easy to do. But the optimist in me does believe that things can get better.
After all, the first step to solving a problem is admitting that we have one.