“There are two industries that call their clients users: illegal drugs and software,” and Netflix is one of them.
MiamiDiario Editorial Staff
The phrase appears in one of the most-talked about moments of the documentary The Social Dilemma, which premiered in February 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States, and which, seven months later, has just become a topic of conversation in the rest of the world after being included in the Netflix catalog, reported La Opinión.
Spun with testimonials from some of Silicon Valley’s largest corporate executives and academics, the film describes the addiction and negative impacts of social media on individuals and communities as a result of strategies designed to manipulate emotions and behaviors and keep users connected.
Thus, according to “The Social Dilemma”, apparently trivial digital experiences, such as automatic recommendations, notifications, and suggested publications, would work as bait that is thrown billions of times a day by the most popular applications on the planet.
The goal would be to capture people’s time, a valuable currency for companies, politicians, organizations, or countries that want to sell products or ideas to vulnerable and hyper-segmented audiences.
Classified as a docudrama – a formula that mixes traditional documentary testimony with dramatized scenes – the film has been described as a window to the decision tables of Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
1. “If you don’t pay for the product, the product is you”
In August, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune exceeded $100 billion.
During the coronavirus pandemic alone, the founder of Facebook would have earned more than $30 billion.
How could Zuckerberg have offered free services and become richer every day?
According to interviewees for “The Dilemma of Social Networking,” the American and his fellow CEOs make money over time.
They explain that the more hours a user spends connected to their social networks, the more detailed information about habits, tastes, and characteristics of consumption they end up exposing.
This data is collected and organized through algorithms that map likes and comments, analyze reading times and exposure to images, and feed huge servers (some of them hosted on submarines).
Then, information about users is provided to customers, from cosmetics brands and universities to politicians and governments, who pay millions of dollars to showcase products or ideas to audiences who are willing to participate.
However, the gear only works if users stay connected to their profiles and therefore can be exposed to the maximum number of ads.
Often, depending on the movie, that happens at any cost.
2. Tools designed to hook and manipulate us
One of the main voices in the film is Tristan Harris, a former Google engineer who tried to warn his colleagues about the risk of addiction to users, and says he was ignored.
In “The Social Dilemma,” he describes the tools that are created to keep users “distracted” while advertisers make money.
One of the clearest would be automatic scrolling, a strategy developed so that the network experience has no end and the user remains connected.
Notifications, in turn, are described as one of the most effective tools for attracting those who are out and keeping those who are already connected.
The dynamics of “I like” and comments with praise or criticism would be stimulated to manipulate and make users dependent, according to the interviewees.
In Harris’ words, media would empower “a whole generation of individuals who, when they feel uncomfortable, lonely or scared, resort to ‘digital pacifiers’ to calm down.
These “pacifiers” are the validations received by praise, and bring a feeling of happiness or achievement to users, he said.
“This atrophies our ability to face things,” warns the specialist.
3. False rewards
The professionals behind the social networks work, according to the film, building bridges between psychology and technology.
In addition to Harris, “The Social Dilemma” features testimonials from Aza Raskin, inventor of the infinite scrolling system used by most websites, or Guillaume Chaslot, one of the developers of the algorithm that recommends videos on YouTube.
Directed by American Jeff Orlowski, an Emmy winner and 2013 Oscar nominee, the production also interviews Bailey Richardson, a developer who worked in the early days of Instagram, Tim Kendall, former director of monetization for Facebook, Alex Roetter, former vice president of engineering for Twitter, and Justin Rosenstein, co-creator of the “Like” button on Facebook.
Interviewees describe methods of manipulating emotions through dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to pleasure, joy, and well-being.
Through “immediate reward” systems, such as “I like” or positive feedback, social networks would have created navigation methods capable of stimulating the circulation of dopamine at unprecedented levels.
Thus, as each validation received online generates new artificial dopamine impulses, the networks keep connected to a legion of increasingly lonely and needy users.
4. Confident x Unconfident
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt says in the film that networks are directly related to the increase in cases of depression and anxiety, especially among children and adolescents.
In the film, this is illustrated with the case of a girl who falls into depression after receiving criticism about a physical characteristic.
The trend is reflected in the number of child suicides recorded in recent years.
In the United States, according to official data, suicide has become the second cause of death among school children and young people (12 to 18 years), after accidents.
Suicide deaths of girls ages 15 to 19 reached a record high in 40 years and doubled between 2007 and 2015, to 5.1 cases per 100,000 population.
The phenomenon also affects boys and adolescents of the male sex, whose deaths still occur in greater numbers, but are growing at a slower pace: 30% in the same period (there are 14.2 cases per 100,000).
According to the documentary, this scenario is not the result of the irresponsible use of social networks, but of the irresponsible way in which the networks treat their users.
5. False news spreads 6 times faster than true news
The phrase appears as a quote from a study published in 2018 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.
According to the documentary, false news has an extended reach on the networks thanks to the “paranoia” of keeping users exposed to the ads.
“We created a system that privileges false information (…) because false information yields more money to companies than the truth,” says one of the interviewees.
Complete, is one of the phrases of the film that has been viralized in recent weeks:
“The truth is boring”.
Translated by Aleuzenev Nogales