You’re on the cottagecore side of Tiktok, but isn’t it kind of weird how they know that’s your vibe?

Every day when you wake up and check your Instagram or Twitter, you’ll usually find a post that seems perfectly catered toward your interest. We don’t think twice about this––in fact, sometimes if your explore page isn’t showing you what you want to see, you go on a liking spree to nudge the platform back in the right direction. 

On Wednesday, Director Jeff Orlowski discussed his documentary, The Social Dilemma, that tackles issues that social media dependence has begun causing in our society. At this event, he was in conversation with Yaël Eisenstat, former Facebook Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations for Political Advertising and Desmond Upton Patton, Associate Professor and Dean of Curriculum Innovation and Academic Affairs at Columbia School of Social Work. 

The documentary, which can be found on Netflix, stresses the detrimental aspects of social media technology. The more posts you like, the more time you spend on those apps, the more money they get. When you continue scrolling, that social media platform has won. The time users spend on these apps are like the raw resources that these companies use to make money––and using algorithms is the way they mine for our attention. Social media has become one of the only places where blatant issues regarding privacy, like tracking data, have become celebrated rather than cause for concern. 

Orlowski’s path in making this documentary was a somewhat untraditional one. Originally, he specialized in making documentaries regarding climate change, but after having some discussions with computer scientists, he realized there is a major problem with the way a lot of engineers use the psychology of social media users against them. Ultimately, there are too many problems with the way this technology is made, but Orlowski wanted to hone in on social media issues, and in particular, how algorithms and surveillance lead to microtargeted ads and other problematic forms of subliminal messaging. Such ads can make people’s views more extreme or boost false information. 

There were many issues with the making of the film that somewhat harmed the message it presented––primarily the lack of diversity in the subjects chosen. A film that has an extreme responsibility of creating a dialogue between every person on social media seemingly only focused on the viewpoint of white male contributors to social media. Especially considering how minority groups can be vulnerable to harm caused by these algorithms and how social media has proven to be essential in work toward ending racial injustices, it was a questionable omission. Additionally, when considering Orlowski’s inexperience with the topic, Eisenstat believed there could have been more acknowledgment of the work that came before him and allowed him to make the film. 

Another controversial issue regarding the film is the lack of a true resolution. Orlowski chose not to include outright solutions in the film because in his past experiences with climate change films, including a solution caused viewers to automatically assume it was a propaganda film rather than solely educational. The panelists set out during the event to decide on steps that can be taken next, even though solutions are still somewhat elusive. 

Eisenstat supports increased responsibility and accountability of creators in the social media world. Years before social media like we know it existed, the Communications Decency Act was passed which included Section 230, which protects social media platforms from responsibility for what is posted on their sites. Eisenstat feels that although this section is still important for smaller businesses who need that protection, larger companies like Facebook should be held accountable for promoting or suggesting content that is harmful. Overall, she supports a healthier dialogue surrounding social media that takes expert opinion into more consideration and includes greater consequences for these platforms. 

Patton, on the other hand, views the solutions toward these issues as something that experts might not be able to produce. Instead, he feels that going out into communities and seeing how social media actually affects teenagers nowadays can create the most effective solutions. Creating more opportunities for general technological education in communities was another step forward that Patton supports, and as well as a step forward in creating more opportunities for these youth to become the diverse social media creators that can make these platforms more robust and inclusive. 

All of the panelists agreed that the current state of social media innovation is booming in some respects and stagnant in others. When it comes to localizing information or trends, like promoting voting options for elections, social media platforms fight against changes because of difficulties in how that can be globally profitable. The issues will continue to remain present until more ethics are included in the creation of social media, and more consequences and legislation exist to prevent harm caused by these algorithms.

Image via Bwog Archives