The Social Dilemma: there is none

The Social Dilemma movie has been quite a topic in the IndieWeb community (even to the point of having its own wiki page). Now I’m starting to see it mentioned in the mainstream media, too. People I know and respect think this movie is a big deal and worth a discussion. To be honest, I don’t think it really is, but hey, the discussion is out there anyway, so why not chip in.

We watched it a couple of weeks ago, me and my wife, and as the ending credits started rolling she gave probably the most to-the-point account of this movie I’ve heard or read to this day:

I wouldn’t really say I learned something I didn’t already know, but some points are indeed nicely articulated. Tell me, though: the movie is all about how we are manipulated by those algorithms and used by those companies; why do I have such a strong feeling that the authors of this movie are trying to manipulate me and use me?

– my wife

Well, honey, that’s because they are.

They are telling you how those nefarious social networks manipulate the unsuspecting people with their evil algorithms. They aren’t bad, those algorithms, they are just developed for maximum engagement — but to achieve that they do evil things. Their goal is to use you, they act in the interest of their masters. You are the product, you are manipulated, you are turned into profit…

Ok, fair enough. So what do we do? What’s the way out?

Oh, we need to destroy those companies! We need to break them, we need to regulate the hell out of them. They are evil, they are dangerous, they undermine the democracy! They should be limited and controlled, or else our civilization is doomed…

Meh!

Commanding and regulating the manipulator does not stop the manipulation. Instead, all it does is give the control over the puppets to the regulator. The only way to stop a person from being manipulated is to teach that person to recognize the manipulation attempts and withstand them. That requires critical thinking and broad-mindedness. The more information you have and the more you’re used to critically process the incoming information, the less likely you are to be manipulated and deceived. So if we as a society want to mitigate these threats, instead of regulating the information sources what we need to do is teach critical thinking, educate people, and train them to resist manipulation attempts — and do that in schools, too; the younger people we teach and train, the better. Really obvious, isn’t it?

Why don’t the movie’s authors spell this out? Why do they pretend to be educating the viewer while, in fact, they are trying hard to plant fear — the enemy of any critical thinking? The only logical answer is: they don’t want the viewer to be free of manipulation, they want the control for themselves.

Which makes total sense once you remember that The Social Dilemma is a Netflix Original and the production was funded by Netflix — the direct competitor to the nefarious social networks, competing for your attention. Netflix does want you to be less hooked on social networks — but not so that you’re free to do what really is good for you. You need to get off the social networks so you can spend more time watching Netflix! As one Russian saying goes, the one who pays is the one who orders the music, and Netflix is in their right to order the music to their liking. We don’t need to be enjoying it, though.

I also have a strong suspicion the movie has some pro-Democrat (and anti-Republican) discourse built in, but I’m not too much versed in US politics. Maybe I’m totally wrong here and the movie is absolutely not a piece of the pre-election campaign — despite being well-timed for that.

But it’s bad enough as it is.

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