Highlighting the dangers of technology, The Social Dilemma was a horrifying look into mass manipulation for profit


Did rising suicide rates among teenage girls, almost irreversible damage to our planet, and billions of personal matrixes stem from a few middle-aged white men creating a FaceBook “like” button?

No. They also may have been responsible for a looming civil war. 

Director Jeff Orlowski highlights these radical—and inevitably deathly—features of the ever-present, all-knowing, other-worldy technology that has ruled generations in his docu-drama, The Social Dilemma. With snippets of interviews from these middle-aged men, the main interviewee being former Google employee Tristan Harris, the almost two-hour documentary highlights what we all know already: while a necessary evil, social media and technology are designed to lure every single human into their calculated traps. 

From “You were tagged in a photo with your ex from three years ago” notifications to the suspiciously accurate targeted ads, Harris, and a few others, contextualize the dooming dangers that we, as a collective human race, either choose to ignore or are blissfully unaware of. 

Described as a viscous gambling game, Harris reveals that social media was programmed for profit; the targeted ads are not a coincidence, and the videos that YouTube recommends are purposeful. We, as humans, are manipulated for money, and we have been for years. 

Because, in a country driven by capitalism, our best interests are truly not at heart. 

It is easier to simply manipulate people rather than prove to them they are being manipulated.

Ethics and morals aside, these companies put this “digital pacifier” in everyone who has a phone or computer; every single aspect of technology is purposeful and personalized, and as soon as you click on that first FaceBook ad, that first SnapChat notification, that first “like” button, you are then tied down by technology with no means of escape.  

Harris admits to this, and to the fact that even he has succumbed to the dangerous traps that social media apps set. Nobody is safe, not even the middle-aged men who created these apps, which is why the documentary turned dramatic almost right away. 

For context, and for at risk of sounding hypocritical, The Social Dilemma included a fictionalized narrative of a suburban family affected by all aspects of technology. Because these men being interviewed created—purposeful or not, for the profit or not—the apps that are slowly destroying civilization and the world we live in, it was important to include a dramatization of suburban teenagers stumbling into the traps of social media likes, propaganda, and, simply, a drug-like addiction to phones themselves. 

And while the dramatization was at times corny, and other times not entirely relatable, it was necessary to provide context for the short, to-the-point interviews with the powerful social media CEOs that are seemingly exploiting humankind for profit. 

While it could seem messy or confusing to include real-life CEOs alongside this suburban family storyline, it was actually done really well, and the docu-drama may not have been as, well, dramatic, without it. 

It did a remarkable job of providing both digestible explanations and dramatic contextualization of those explanations through the fictional characters and their storylines. It is easier to simply manipulate people rather than prove to them they are being manipulated, which is why so many are victims of technology, and The Social Dilemma very prominently highlighted those dangers. 

Through the fictionalized storyline, the main teenage boy, especially, experienced that manipulation. 

An alienated boy addicted to technology, like literally everyone else in the world, he is quickly pulled into the rabbit hole of personalized ads—borderline propaganda—that can be classified as a very extremist ideology. Leading to riots, protests, and even a run-in with the police, this small storyline very colorfully and truthfully displayed a true reality that many impressionable kids face. 

By the end of the docu-drama, I found myself looking at my phone—something I’ve had for the majority of my life and know the detrimental effects of all too well—and pictured myself in the situations that the suburban family faced. I pictured myself clicking on an ad pixelated just for me, unable to resist that push notification from Instagram, and, most of all, continually picking up my phone like it’s a drug I can’t resist. 

Because I can’t, and you can’t either. And while the middle-aged white men who created these apps may not have had negative intentions in mind, the world we are currently living in is using technology to exploit and manipulate all of humankind. 

While I was aware of how untrustworthy technology is before watching The Social Dilemma, by the end of it, I truly feared the phone I’ve had almost half my life sitting right beside me. 

Because I, and everyone around me, have been manipulated almost our entire lives, and The Social Dilemma did not hold back in sharing those horrifying facts.