Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ prompts social media users to rethink Facebook, Instagram and others

LONDON — Social media users are re-evaluating whether they should have accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram after a new documentary-drama called “The Social Dilemma” dropped on Netflix.

The 90-minute show, which focuses on the downsides of the major tech platforms, features interviews with Silicon Valley whistleblowers who used to work at the likes of Google and Facebook. In many ways, they’re sounding the alarm on their own creations. One former Facebook executive, Tim Kendall, who was asked what worried him most, said: “In the shortest time horizon, I’m most worried about civil war.”

Somewhat ironically, social media is awash with people saying they plan to delete their social media accounts after watching the show, with Facebook and Instagram appearing to be called out most frequently.

“Everyone should watch The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix and then make the necessary changes,” one Twitter user wrote. “Tonight I deleted Facebook and turned off notifications from Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s time to take back control of our minds.”

Another Twitter user said: “Just watched this and immediately deleted #Facebook and #Instagram. A must watch to understand the manipulation.”

Ranked as the 5th most watched show on Netflix in the U.K. on Friday and hailed as “the most important documentary of our times” by The Independent newspaper, “The Social Dilemma” shines a light on how tech companies influence national elections, “follow” billions of people around the internet in order to deliver targeted ads to them and come up with features that drive addiction.

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, declined to comment when asked whether it was concerned about a potential user backlash.

Instead the California-headquartered firm pointed to several announcements and resources on safety and mental health. For example, earlier this month, on World Suicide Prevention Day, it announced that it was creating new “Instagram Wellness Guides” and launching “crisis support” over chat. Last year,  Facebook released a “Let’s Talk” Stories filter on Facebook and Messenger, which was designed to act as an invitation for friends who might be struggling to reach out for support through Messenger.

Google did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. 

While many people are urging their friends and family to watch the “The Social Dilemma,” it’s not without its critics. 

Tech analyst Benedict Evans, a former partner at venture firm Andreessen Horrowitz, told CNBC: “I thought it hilarious how manipulative and misleading it was.”

He added that he thinks it will have “zero effect” on the likes of Facebook and Instagram.

Timothy Armoo, chief executive of Fanbytes, a company that helps brands advertise through social video, told CNBC that most people already know many of the things that the show discusses. “Maybe older people might see it and think twice,” he said. “Especially parents. But Gen Z and millennials I don’t think are going to care as much.”

The tech giants, who have weathered big storms in the past, are facing increasing amounts of scrutiny from regulators and their users. The “Delete Facebook” movement, for example, has been around for years now and several media outlets have written instruction guides to help people to do it. But Facebook’s profits continue to grow quarter after quarter, year after year.

In 2019, Netflix launched another attack on Silicon Valley with a documentary called “The Great Hack,” which focuses on Facebook’s Cambridge-Analytica data scandal.

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