I watched this Netflix documentary last week.
I’ve changed the way I consume social media as a result.
It’s a docu-drama (half documentary and half fictionalised scenes of a ‘normal’ family interacting with each other and their phones) that discusses how social media companies monetise our attention, what we read and consume, and how this changes the way we interact with the real world. There’s interviews with ex-employees of social media platforms who have had epiphanies and are sharing all.
Look, I’m the first to say I enjoy a scroll on Facebook and Instagram. I’m probably a bit of a dinosaur since I haven’t really investigated Tiktok and Snapchat. I dabbled in Twitter. I like keeping up to date with old school friends and being in groups that have a common interest. I learn loads and stay ‘informed’. I’m putting this into inverted commas because basic factchecking is needed for a lot of posts especially when you’re looking at content on running, fitness, nutrition, parenting, type 1 diabetes - the main topics I tend to follow.
Before watching this programme I considered the data I have given away to the platforms to be the biggest risk to me. I thought somehow that me looking up a chicken casserole recipe on Instagram meant that somewhere in the wires another company that sold chicken would piece together that a late-30s-female-two-young-children-likes-cooking-no-chef-skills was looking for food inspiration.
Or maybe because I knew about the dopamine hit of the pull-to-refresh function that it somehow made me immune to it.
In fact what the programme does is to explain that my attention is valuable. The companies drip feed info they know I will like to keep me scrolling for longer, and to put more ads in front of me. My time on the apps is monetised for those companies.
Perhaps more disturbing is that fakes news breeds actively on these platforms. You know how sometimes you think ‘how could anyone vote for …’, or ‘why are people so suspicious of…’, or ‘why do people think that eating .... is good/bad for you’, or ‘why does everyone in my year at school want the same pair of trainers’. It’s because no two people see the same feed. We read, consume, share and put out content which reflects what we’ve read. It perpetuates inaccuracies, perhaps even magnifying them, and before we know it we’re miles away from reality and in a pickle trying to decide what actually is true and what isn’t.
This programme isn’t perfect and once you’re attuned to the likelihood that you’re being manipulated by media, you think the same about what you’re watching! It’s dramatic, there’s sweeping mood music, sinister people pretending to be the AI algorithm, scenes of riots caused by misinformation. It’s not neutral, by any stretch. Plus, a bunch of good stuff happens on social media, if it's used well. Loads of the Phase reach is through the device you're reading this on now.
However, it’s food for thought, for sure. Plus, is there any harm in being less device dependent and more into a book, talking to people in your household, or pretty much anything that’s actually real?!
In the interests of transparency, I’m not coming off these platforms. I have, however, turned off my notifications, downloaded an app to help me limit time on the apps I want to limit, and am staying off my phone altogether until after I’ve had my breakfast. Plus I’m just generally being more mindful about where I put my attention.
Tell us whether you’ve watched The Social Dilemma and if you’ve changed any of your behaviour as a result, we’d love to hear about it.
PS, the Phase Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account are always 100% truthful ;-)
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