Control, Alt Delete- The Social Dilemma Puts Viewers in their Place

Originally written and edited October 16th 2020

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

Jeff Orlowski’s Netflix Documentary/Docu-drama, The Social Dilemma is so effective, it had me unplugging devices and cancelling notifications faster than a speeding bullet. But to my surprise, it leaves some important questions unanswered.

After watching this film, I was terrified. Throughout the documentary, Orlowski speaks to highly influential men and women, who have each had a hand in building some of the world’s most popular social media platforms from the ground up. The film emphasizes the problems surrounding a society addicted to digital dopamine.

“I don’t like this.”

“I spent 8 months talking back and forth with lawyers, this freaks me out.”

“I’m very concerned.”

These are all statements made by previous employees of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google concerning the conniving work these platforms do behind the scenes in pursuit of human data.

Similar to Orlowski’s previous Emmy award-winning documentaries Chasing Ice (2012) and Chasing Coral (2017) the shockingly candid personal interviews are contrasted with a related storyline. Embedded strategically throughout the film are scenes that follow a middle-class family and how social media negatively impacts their day to day life.

While the acting within these scenes may not be Oscar-worthy by any means, in fact, mediocre at best. The story’s message and impact leave enough of a lasting impression to keep you on your toes. Throughout the film, we follow Ben, an influential high schooler who is manipulated and controlled by his frequently used social networks. We see two men, acting as the mechanics running the social network as they follow Ben’s every move and sneakily attempt to keep his attention.

The film touches upon multiple social controversies surrounding social networking. An increase in mental health instability, as well as the viral spread of controversial fake news, are heavily emphasized. But most shockingly, viewers get a never before seen glimpse into the terrifying ways we are being tracked, manipulated and controlled through our smartphones.

Put plain and simple, Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist explains the business model as a horrendous psychological experiment.

“It’s not enough that you use the product consciously. We want to dig deep down into the brainstem and plant inside of you an unconscious habit, so you are being programmed at a deeper level and you don’t even realize it. You get a notification, so you pick it up to see what it is. That’s not by accident, that’s a design technique,” explained Harris.

Not afraid yet? Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of growth at Facebook equates our social media use to forced drug consumption.

“We want to figure out how to psychologically manipulate you as fast as possible and give you back that dopamine hit that you desire,” he utters.

This should scare you.

This film is a wake-up call.

Many people often speak and hear about the invasive nature of social platforms with thier peers. In my experience, the majority of us simply leave this knowledge as a passive thought and shove it aside.

Hearing the sly details from former industry experts themselves will change this, I wholeheartedly believe it.

Although shocking and captivating, the film still left me with some lingering questions. The film lacked any conversation regarding my main concern, the extent to which we are being listened to. Do our phones listen to us? If so, how often and how invasively?

I am often shocked and astounded when I am speaking about a specific artist, film or product with my smartphone in hand. Within seconds, an ad will appear on my screen mirroring the conversation topic from just moments before.

I wish the film had touched upon this. But perhaps this thought is merely a byproduct of my own paranoia. To a further extremity, perhaps this information was too shocking to include..even after spending 8 months consulting with lawyers.

Regardless of my criticism, the information provided in this film is more than enough to shock you, grasp your attention and leave you wanting to begin a disconnected life. After witnessing it myself, I urge you to drop the phone, close the social networks and watch this film.

The Social Dilemma can be viewed exclusively on the popular streaming platform, Netflix. More information on the film and its social impact can be found at




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I want to tell the stories that go with your morning coffee.

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