“The Social Dilemma,” released this year (2020) on Netflix, got a lot of people talking! The documentary tackles the question: Is social media manipulating our behavior and society through carefully crafted algorithms?
It’s a valid and scary question!
Now, people in digital marketing aren’t creating the algorithms, but trust us, we work with them! There are worthwhile conversations to be had about social media’s impact on us, but reality tends to be more complicated. We watched “The Social Dilemma” and have some thoughts!
Remember, this documentary has an agenda too
This documentary was created by the group called “The Social Dilemma” which is a nonprofit working to change the way we see social media. This is important to know because, like other non-profits, they live off donations to their cause. Now we aren’t saying that they are being untruthful or over-exaggerating for profit, we just want people to know that the makers have their own agenda as well.
An agenda isn’t a bad thing, but the ultimate goal of this documentary is to encourage you to remove yourself from social media entirely. That may be a good decision for some, but social media will be a part of the world regardless.
There are healthy, productive ways to use social media (just like there are harmful ways), and those options are not encouraged as much. It makes sense, you have to expose a problem to show a problem, but there are positives to social media that are overlooked in this film (like growing your business, or reconnecting with old friends).
Algorithms are complicated, but not entirely “evil”
The documentary personifies how algorithms work by showing a glazed-over “floating guy” and three men that relay subliminal information to him. It’s meant to show that each person online is carefully “fed” content that tech giants know will appeal to them. This is true, but we’ll add an asterisk: their main goal is to better your user experience.
Think of it like this: if you want to see cat videos, why would Facebook show you dog videos? While there is a vindictive side that monetizes your attention, there’s another side that looks to serve you information that you like or that is useful to you.
Marketers using data isn’t new; there’s just a lot of data now!
Even before widespread digital marketing, marketers always used data to place ads in front of the right eyes. The difference now is that data is more refined and more specific than ever. Simply, it paints a more complete picture of your likes, dislikes, and preferences when it comes to your online activity, and advertisers take notice.
Take a look at TV commercials for example. When you turn on Nickelodeon, you’ll see very different commercials than you would if you switched to CNN. While that’s an extreme example, it still illustrates the point that data about the viewer is what is driving those decisions.
It’s also important to remember that information given to advertisers does not contain your personal information. Your name and personal identifying information are taken out, but your “customer persona” stays intact. They can group you into a “type,” but they don’t know you.
Yes, you’re being tracked everywhere online
The documentary isn’t wrong…data is being collected and you’re being tracked everywhere online by almost every website you visit. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a fact. However, knowing this is a good first step in using the internet safely and in a productive way.
It comes down to being educated
Using social media comes down to personal responsibility. As a society, it’s our responsibility to educate the coming generations about safe social media and internet practices. There is a definite need for better education about how digital marketing works. Make no mistake, the topics covered in this documentary are important. It’s important to understand how social media works so we can make the best decisions for ourselves on how to use it and understand why we are seeing what is in our new feeds.
As social media marketers, we recognize the benefit of setting parameters for social media use. It’s important to put down your phone and enjoy the real world. However, there are positives in social media, from growing your business to keeping in touch with those you care about. These positives were only talked about for 30 seconds during the documentary, but they do exist! It’s about balance!
“The Social Dilemma” is a great documentary, but it is only one part of the picture. Have you watched it? What did you think?