On October 4, BTS member RM went on Weverse to deliver a “what I’m watching” update, where he recommended the Netflix original film The Social Dilemma. Part documentary and part drama, The Social Dilemma sheds light on the influence that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks—and, by extension, their algorithms—have on their users’ lives. The movie criticizes the way in which the algorithms, designed to expose users to advertisements, have led to severe social problems such as sensationalism and polarization. As Sophocles said, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,” and now, social media’s pursuit of short-term gains has saddled us with the “social dilemma” of a culture that is impossible to sustain.

Highlighting the harmful effects of social media, the film is raising awareness as it effectively conveys just how epidemic the issue has become. At the same time, however, by narrowing its focus specifically to social media as the target of its criticism, The Social Dilemma creates a dilemma of its own, erasing the social context in which the problem has arisen. For example, although the movie demonstrates “Snapchat dysmorphia” by profiling a teenage girl attached to her “filter”-altered image, it overlooks the obsession with appearance fueled by traditional media. The same is true of the way the film handles political polarization. Social media, as the movie suggests, can be manipulated or abused for political purposes, but it can also give a voice to marginalized teenagers who lack the right to vote, and it can drive global movements against unjust authorities. But the film only warns us of the harm brought upon democracy by social media, and falls short of addressing the limitations of established democracy and mass media. It is for this reason that the solutions proposed in The Social Dilemma, including the self-discipline to disable notifications and limit screen time, as well as laws that levy taxes on data collection and its use, are half-hearted at best. Here, the New York Times finds fault with the way the film “confuses two distinct targets of critique: the technology that causes destructive behaviors and the culture of unchecked capitalism that produces it.” Writing for the Guardian, John Naughton, a professor at the UK-based Open University, criticizes how the movie fails “to accurately explain the engine driving this industry that harnesses applied psychology to exploit human weaknesses and vulnerabilities.”

“How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don't know you're in the Matrix?” There is a reason Tristan Harris revisists this pop culture question in The Social Dilemma. Before we can solve a problem, we must first be able to recognize it. This applies not only to social media itself, but to the countless aspects of our lives that we have blindly allowed social media to indiscriminately disrupt.

Released in 1984, William Gibson’s science fiction novel Neuromancer originated the concept of the “matrix,” an enormous virtual reality dataspace. The Matrix, the 1999 global box office hit film which borrowed the term, propelled the expression into common use. In the movie, the Matrix is the virtual reality program shaped by the AI that controls the world in order to use humans as their energy source. Because the Matrix regulates their nervous systems, almost all humans believe the existence they experience through their own senses to be the real world and are unable to perceive the truth.
Article. Hyunkyung Lim
Design. Yurim Jeon