Bookmarked More than tools: who is responsible for the social dilemma? (Social Media Collective)

It is necessary to re-frame social media as something more than a mere “tool”. Rather than simply leave it to former tech industry insiders to spell out the ills of social media in documentaries like The Social Dilemma, we must engage with thinkers from a diverse range of backgrounds to look to the historical conditions of social media’s origins, while always questioning the economics and cultural politics of its global dissemination. We must personally examine how our own thoughts and actions are subtly shaped by social media’s design, while taking time to listen to marginalized individuals and communities who are impacted the most by the violence produced through social media today. And by seeing technology as a relation, by sharing responsibility in this way, we lift the burden of fixing the problem from the individual user alone, and discard the moralizing discourses such a burden brings.

Niall Docherty pushes back on the argument made by The Social Dilemma that social media is designed to manipulate. He argues that the user does not act alone, instead it is a coming together of users and interfaces. In the end, it is always far more nuanced, with various socio-political factors, such as gender, race, and class inequities, adding to story.

This is why I find approaches like Ian Guest’s research into the potentials associated with Twitter in regards to teacher professional development interesting. It adds to the knowledge about the topic, but does not promise to be the whole knowledge.

Bookmarked Flamethrowers and Fire Extinguishers – a review of “The Social Dilemma”

The film warns that the social media companies are not your friends, and that is certainly true, but The Social Dilemma is not your friend either.

The Librarianshipwreck provides a lengthy review of The Social Dilemma and the redemption of with the Humane Technology movement.

The Social Dilemma makes some important points about the way that social media works, and the insiders interviewed in the film bring a noteworthy perspective. Yet beyond the sad eyes, disturbing animations, and ominous music The Social Dilemma is a piece of manipulative filmmaking on par with the social media platforms it critiques. While presenting itself as a clear-eyed expose of Silicon Valley, the film is ultimately a redemption tour for a gaggle of supposedly reformed techies wrapped in an account that is so desperate to appeal to “both sides” that it is unwilling to speak hard truths.

Although the documentary wants viewers to be concerned, this is only to build back trust that it can all be worked out.

If, after watching The Social Dilemma, you feel concerned about what “surveillance capitalism” has done to social media (and you feel prepared to make some tweaks in your social media use) but ultimately trust that Silicon Valley insiders are on the case—then the film has succeeded in its mission.

Rather than providing a step-by-step breakdown, the review focuses on three parts: the treatment of history, avoidance of politics and place of criticism.

In the documentary, Tristan Harris compares social media with the invention of bicycles. Although Librarianshipwreck points out that this is wrong, what is more concerning is his confidence in it.

You know how you could have known that technologies often have unforeseen consequences? Study the history of technology. You know how you could have known that new media technologies have jarring political implications? Read some scholarship from media studies.

In regards to politics, there is an unwillingness to take sides as if they are both eqivilant.

The Social Dilemma clearly wants to avoid taking sides. And in so doing demonstrates the ways in which Silicon Valley has taken sides. After all, to focus so heavily on polarization and the extremism of “both sides” just serves to create a false equivalency where none exists. But, the view that “the Trump administration has mismanaged the pandemic” and the view that “the pandemic is a hoax” – are not equivalent. The view that “climate change is real” and “climate change is a hoax” – are not equivalent.

At the heart of the redemption is the effort to rebrand people like Harris as critic.

They are willing to be critical of Silicon Valley, they are willing to be critical of the tools they created, but when it comes to their own culpability they are desperate to hide behind a shield of “I meant well.”

While at the same time staying silent about the sacred cows, such as Mark Zuckerberg.

On the one hand it’s remarkable that no one in the film really goes after Mark Zuckerberg, but many of these insiders can’t go after Zuckerberg—because any vitriol they direct at him could just as easily be directed at them as well.

The most frustrating part to it all are those critics whose work is left silent.

There are many phenomenal critics speaking out about technology these days. To name only a few: Safiya Noble has written at length about the ways that the algorithms built by companies like Google and Facebook reinforce racism and sexism; Virginia Eubanks has exposed the ways in which high-tech tools of surveillance and control are first deployed against society’s most vulnerable members; Wendy Hui Kyong Chun has explored how our usage of social media becomes habitual; Jen Schradie has shown the ways in which, despite the hype to the contrary, online activism tends to favor right-wing activists and causes; Sarah Roberts has pulled back the screen on content moderation to show how much of the work supposedly being done by AI is really being done by overworked and under-supported laborers; Ruha Benjamin has made clear the ways in which discriminatory designs get embedded in and reified by technical systems; Christina Dunbar-Hester has investigated the ways in which communities oriented around technology fail to overcome issues of inequality; Sasha Costanza-Chock has highlighted the need for an approach to design that treats challenging structural inequalities as the core objective, not an afterthought; Morgan Ames expounds upon the “charisma” that develops around certain technologies; and Meredith Broussard has brilliantly inveighed against the sort of “technochauvinist” thinking—the belief that technology is the solution to every problem—that is so clearly visible in The Social Dilemma. To be clear, this list of critics is far from all-inclusive. There are numerous other scholars who certainly could have had their names added here, and there are many past critics who deserve to be named for their disturbing prescience.

Overall, I think that The Social Dilemma has been useful in generating wider conversation. See for example Shoshana Wodinsky and Pranav Malhotra. I also like Librarianshipwreck’s suggestion about breaking up the film into five minute segments and assigning these to different academics and activists. The question as always though is what is next. For me, being critical is important, but we also need to be willing to consider all options and that is often easier said than done.

Bookmarked The Social Dilemma Fails to Tackle the Real Issues in Tech by (Slate)

Ultimately, this omission of experts and lack of nuance results in The Social Dilemma feeling like a missed opportunity. On the plus side, it informs a wide audience about issues like surveillance, persuasive design practices, and the spread of misinformation online, which may encourage them to hold big technology companies accountable. But who gets to convey this information and how it is framed are also crucial. Amplifying voices who have always had a seat at the table and continuing to ignore those who haven’t will not lead us any closer to resolving the dilemma the film claims to present.

Pranav Malhotra argues that although the documentry The Social Dilemma is helpful in providing information about the problems with social media, the choice of whose voices are included and how it is framed is problematic.

This documentary, which will undoubtedly reach a global audience being on Netflix (itself a key cog within the technology industry), could have amplified such voices. It could have also given space to critical internet and media scholars like Safiya Noble, Sarah T. Roberts, and Siva Vaidhyanathan, just to name a few, who continue to write about how broader structural inequalities are reflected in and often amplified by the practices of big technology companies.

This is something that Maria Farrell also touches on this in regards to the ‘prodigal techbros‘.

The prodigal tech bro doesn’t want structural change. He is reassurance, not revolution. He’s invested in the status quo, if we can only restore the founders’ purity of intent. Sure, we got some things wrong, he says, but that’s because we were over-optimistic / moved too fast / have a growth mindset. Just put the engineers back in charge / refocus on the original mission / get marketing out of the c-suite. Government “needs to step up”, but just enough to level the playing field / tweak the incentives. Because the prodigal techbro is a moderate, centrist, regular guy. Dammit, he’s a Democrat. Those others who said years ago what he’s telling you right now? They’re troublemakers, disgruntled outsiders obsessed with scandal and grievance. He gets why you ignored them. Hey, he did, too. He knows you want to fix this stuff. But it’s complicated. It needs nuance. He knows you’ll listen to him. Dude, he’s just like you…

via Bill Fitzgerald