The Social Dilemma - The Marketer's Opinion
If you're in marketing you've likely heard of Netflix's docu-drama The Social Dilemma. In fact you're likely to have heard about it from your friends, your clients and other marketers and you have probably at least watched the trailer.
In case you don't know, the show is described on IMDB as:
Set in the dark underbelly of Silicon Valley, The Social Dilemma fuses investigative documentary with enlightening narrative drama. Expert testimony from tech whistle-blowers exposes our disturbing predicament: the services Big Tech provides-search engines, networks, instant information, etc.-are merely the candy that lures us to bite. Once we're hooked and coming back for more, the real commodity they sell is their prowess to influence and manipulate us.
Written by Sundance Film Festival
So it's supposed to be about how social media platforms have ruined the world - causing a rise in conspiracy theorists, mental health issues, the degradation of democracy and the polarisation of society.
It explores how the platforms have been deliberately made to be addictive, and goes a little into how that was achieved by the people who built them.
There's interviews of ex-employees of Google, Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube as well as input from academics and investors.
The overarching vibe is that things have gotten way out of control and regulation needs to be brought in to dilute the power of attention to the highest bidder.
The Marketer has some thoughts and we're going to share them with you. I'll go first and you'll have to stay tuned for Clayton's write up soon.
This docu-drama is quite watchable, even though the dramatic sections are super awkward in parts and very much over simplify some complex issues.
In fact - I guess that's one of my biggest concerns with this program. I had assumed that having the word social in its title it would be about social media. And it is - kinda.
But it's more about society...
It seems to me that what the people who built the tech are mad about is actually capitalism.
Now back up for a sec! I'm not saying social media platforms (can I just point out here that Google isn't a social media platform...and neither IMO are YouTube or Pinterest) should be unregulated. Or should be allow themselves to be involved in mass-manipulation of the world's people.
I'm not crazy.
I just question whether this situation is any different to newspapers, manazines, TV or anything else that can have a paid element that could wade into the arena of propaganda.
It seems to me that the builders of these platforms and AI are lamenting their progression from being a harmless part of our lives, a kind of social extension of our previous offline existence, to being monetised - being able to sell the attention of users for the purpose of persuasion.
It appears they wanted to be able to build cool tech that was free from the potentially problematic addition of money changing hands. Of being a business.
But there are businesses.
And I'm not saying capitalism is great - it certainly has faults - but businesses who pay developers big bucks to build cool shit would obviously need to make this back somehow?
Maybe they could keep building cool tech and not take a salary? Make their builds open source? Would they?
I would like to make an important clarification. My thoughts on the dangers of social media suppose we're talking about adult users. When it comes to children, persuasion becomes a much more nefarious thing and if I was a parent I'd probably have some different opinions.
You can have a profile on most social media platforms from the age of 13, and I think this is too young for users to have a good understanding of the way algorithms work, and a good understanding of the world around them to offer them context to regulate their use.
Overall, I'd say watch The Social Dilemma.
If you're not familiar with the way social media platforms (and Google) are designed this will be very eye-opening.
For those of us who are already across this, it's still a good reminder. Even with the Star Trek style dramatisations of the newsfeed algo.