Movie Review: The Social Dilemma


The Social Dilemma is a two-time Emmy-winning Netflix docudrama about the damaging societal impact of social media while focusing on how technology companies use algorithms to make their users addicted to their platforms. It portrays a dystopian world built upon the data harvested from millions of social media users online.

Directed by American filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, the film features interviews with several former executives from top-rated and highly popular social media channels and tech companies. At the center of the film is Tristan Harris, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Humane Technology and a former Design Ethicist at Google. Harris recounts his first-hand experience as a witness to social media’s race for attention, and how, in his opinion, this leads to the “destabilization of society”.

In parallel, the documentary depicts the life of a fictional family with three young adult children of different ages. We can follow the struggle of how the parents, on the one hand, try to minimize their kids’ screen time. On the other hand, we see how algorithms can hinder the natural development of the young adults’ social lives by dragging them into a “rabbit hole” of endless content and advertisements. Personifying algorithms as villains who control the fates of human beings adds to the gloominess of the film’s depiction of social media.

On a wider scale, we get to visualize how the masses are mobilized according to algorithms that are affected by search history, likes, comments, online traffic, etc. Viewers also get a glimpse of the tribulations and skepticism surrounding social media algorithms’ role in presidential elections campaigns, which poses a serious threat to the notion of democracy.

As we watch the interviews with different former executives and creators, we follow the gradual downfall of some of the family members as a result of social media addiction. What appears to be a sort of paranoid criticism of social media, ends up unveiling a harsh yet somehow overlooked reality, especially when almost all guests admit to limiting or prohibiting the use of social media for their kids. The documentary also features interviews with psychologists and addiction experts, while flickering now and then heart-wrenching quotes by other notable guests or influential figures to further cement the outgrowing danger of social media.

Whether algorithms impose a “checkmate on humanity” or not, the filmmaker concludes his docudrama with an open ending while featuring the guests’ final words. Some of them were hopeful that regulations would be eventually imposed on tech companies, while others saw the necessity of taking a pivotal action to protect democracy.


Cover image: Poster design by Indika Entertainment Advertising/Source

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