Review of “The Social Dilemma” from Three Educators:

  • We feel the intentions of the producers were good, we really do. It was professionally shot and the list of people interviewed (considering their histories in the genealogy of social media platforms) was impressive.
  • The vignettes were distracting, unrealistic and unnecessary. The parents portrayed were helpless. The older sister was unrealistic but the younger sister’s portrayal rang true.  Felt very “Black Mirror”.
  • We really appreciated the angle about how the algorithms are addictive and can lead to political polarization. There isn’t enough discussion about this in digital citizenship circles.
  • The film really misses the boat by being so alarmist. The only solution offered for the problems they present is to “delete all your accounts”. That ship has sailed. And why keep the “solutions” until the credits?
  • A huge opportunity was lost by not mentioning media literacy education as a way to turn us into active media consumers rather than just slaves to the algorithms.
  • Another missed opportunity was a lack of exploration into Tristan Harris’ organization Center for Humane Technology. If he was so central to the documentary, why not balance the doomsaying with what his center does? Add to that the CEO of Moment–an app intended to help people control their phone use instead of their phones controlling them–why wasn’t he talking about that?
  • At the end of the film, there is a title slide directing the viewer to their website–no social media presence with this particular film, apparently–where visitors can earn a certificate in “Digital Wellness” for a cool $1500
  • The emphasis on Facebook and youth was shortsighted since so many youth are not on Facebook. This is part of what made the vignettes fall flat. Additionally, if we are to believe current research, teens are not the only people being radicalized. ALL AGES ARE, and the older the person, it’s less about the phone and more about computers. It’s the platforms and internet, not phones that transfer knowledge. 

The information was nothing new but framing it with all the crazy that is going on now (covid, protests, politics) made it frightening and contributed to the buzz around the doc.  It comes across so dramatized it’s just as manipulative as the companies it’s warning against.  The focus seemed to be mostly on the algorithms created and radicalization, yet there is so much more there to discuss and uncover.

While watching this, don’t forget to ask yourself the classic media literacy questions:

Who’s the sender of the message?

What’s their motive or intent?

Who is the target audience?

How is the message created to get your to think/feel a certain way?

What information is left out?

Who is making money from this?


Julie Rowse @msrowse

Kelly Miller @kellymedu

Julie Smith @julnilsmith

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