By FATIMA B. BADURIA
AS the 2022 national election draws near, the social media climate grows increasingly toxic. The polarization of political beliefs intensifies and ideas ranging from the logical to the conspiratorial find their way to the collective consciousness.
Rather perplexing, online attacks can be similar on both sides of the pole: an accusation of idiocy. Those who stand firm with their preferred national leaders are bemused that other people do not choose the same. The Social Dilemma provides an explanation for this phenomenon.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, the documentary explores the underside of social media. It zeroes in on the inner workings of the technological industry and exposes the repercussions social media has on society.
Experts in the field who formerly worked in huge companies are featured in the film. Among those who gave their testimonies are Tristan Harris, former employee of Google; Tim Kendall, who worked on Facebook and Pinterest; Jeff Seibert, previously from Twitter; and Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist.
They discuss the operations of social media and its effects, both intentional and not. They outline the severe consequences of unregulated social media use, incorporating its mental, social, and political risks in the film. Most of them became regretful for the technological inventions they made.
From an insider perspective, the profit-driven efforts to increase screen time are explained. The technologists claim that the algorithms have arrived at becoming a manipulative tool, letting their users gaze at the screen. It has become so advanced that the content it provides for every single person is calculated and perfectly tailored for them. Harris emphasizes this to be among the causes of political polarization.
Filipinos who are strong-willed and who emphasize their color-marked political belief have seen social media to be a platform where they can effectively impose their beliefs to the public.
Since most people are equipped to use social media, it has been weaponized to destabilize democratic elections by propagating sensational political information. Its veracity does not matter as long as the message capitalizes on the users’ attention.
To further support the film, a fictional narration accompanied by real-life interview records are used. The narrative presents the influence of these widely used applications through the lens of Ben (Skyler Gisondo).
Ben’s immersion in the digital realm goes from social to political. At first, he turns to social media as an emotional pacifier right after a heartbreak. He scrolls his way to distraction until he comes upon political discourse.
As he gains interest in the matter, he looks to social media personalities for related information. He relents to their words as if they were grounded on solid evidence—what is true in his phone becomes true in the world.
These events portray the thinning boundary between the digital and the physical realm. Screens are seen projected on the walls surrounding Ben.
Other elements in the frame accentuate the message. Ben is seen enveloped by darkness but touched by intense hues of red, then violet while melancholic jazz plays in the background.
However, the story takes an improbable turn in its progression.
With his eyes barely leaving the screen, he walks towards a political rally where he soon faces trouble. The sudden struggle that comes upon him, marking the drama’s climax, is too much of a coincidence to be likely.
This improbable sequence of events is a definite hitch, given the realistic grounds of the film. From this, the general integrity of the documentary is placed at risk. It can raise questions of possible exaggeration and even fear-mongering as the professionals claim that the issue with the technological industry is an existential crisis.
Kendall expresses his worry about the possibility of a civil war, while Lanier states that the potential destruction of civilization is at hand if democracy remains at risk. Harris also affirms an existential threat but clarifies that the social media applications most likely neither intended nor foresee it.
Nonetheless, the film is impressively driven by its clear and strong intent, allowing it to present the unfamiliar within the most familiar technology. It is done with artistic grace, evident in the clever structuring of the film and perfectly crafting of the visuals to supplement the discourse.
More importantly, an essential message is driven home. Although technology can become a potent weapon, its users always have the last word on directing its advancement. In the end, a tool is never more powerful than its wielder. F