THE PAST DECADE has seen an endless trickle of negative stories about social media—data breaches, Russian bots, cyberbullying, digital radicalization, etc.—so by now almost everyone knows that the amusement and convenience those platforms offer come with a downside. But now a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, is here to tell us one big thing: It’s worse than we thought. In fact, it’s worse than we could have possibly imagined.
In the film this alarm is raised by many of the very people who helped create the systems they now decry. We’re talking about the guy who invented the “Like” button for Facebook, the guy who designed the recommendation engine for YouTube, the fellow who invented the infinite scroll. One after another these mostly white, mostly male characters come on camera to tell us how badly their proudest accomplishments have gone awry.
The big problem these folks warn us about is that our smartphones constantly collect data (what we buy, what music we play, where we are, who we talk to, etc., ad nauseam) and that data is used to fuel a system of targeted alerts, notifications, and recommendations designed to keep us on a site for as long as possible and deliver us to advertisers who also have that data about us.