Never before have a handful of tech designers had such power over the way billions of us think, act, and live their lives.
These are the voices of technologists, researchers and activists working to align technology with the interests of humankind.
But do you know what’s hiding on the other side of your screen?
We tweet, we like, and we share, but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media?
Well, it demonstrates how social media is reprogramming society with tech professionals sounding the alarm on their own creations and a 5,000 person investigation found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health and life fulfilment.
With compelling design methods like push notifications and the infinite scroll of your newsfeed have created a feedback loop that keeps us glued to our devices and countries with political disinformation campaigns on social media has doubled in past years.
Social media advertisement allows anyone to reach enormous numbers of people with remarkable ease, giving bad actors the instruments to instil unrest and fuel political divisions.
And sixty-four per cent of the people who joined extremist groups on Facebook did so because the algorithms steered them there because the algorithms facilitate content that sparks fury, hate and intensifies biases within the information that they provide.
And we’re now hearing from tech insiders about how their creations are generating unintended harm to people and society and now we’re inviting others into the dialogue, amplifying those helping us better understand the impact of the dilemma and those working on solutions to correct it.
And 2020 has highlighted just how much we depend on technology to connect, learn, organise, and live our lives, but the business model of big tech poses an unparalleled threat to our human rights, harvesting and monetising the data of a third of the world’s population, ensnaring us in a system where we’re compelled to either submit to pervasive tracking or forego this vital lifeline.
If you’ve logged onto social media recently, you might have noticed the odd clue that all is not right in the world. What with credulous corona conspiracists spoiling for punch ups with 5G masts and honking clowns of Governments who rule by fomenting voter conflict, and the persistent feeling that you’re being boiled alive in a cauldron of hatred, extremism, fake news and the mental health crisis.
But of course, the central issue is the fact that you logged into social media in the first place.
Where the brilliance lies is in laying bare a vast range of complicated issues with compelling transparency and its masterstroke is in recruiting the very Silicon Valley insiders that created these platforms and to get them to explain their horrifying pitfalls, which they’ve realised perhaps far too late.
And you don’t get a much clearer statement of social media’s dangers than an ex-Facebook executive’s claims that “In the shortest time horizon I’m worried about civil war”.
The generally held idea that social media companies peddle user’s data was quickly tossed aside – the information is actually utilised to create a sophisticated psychological profile of you and what they’re peddling is their ability to control you, or as one interviewee put it, it’s the gradual, subtle, invisible change in your own behaviour and perception and it’s the only thing for them to make money from changing what you do, how you think and who you are.
Tech can be used to reprogramme the way your brain works until addiction results and it’s even more harmful to teens because social media starts to dig deep and deeper down into the brain stem and takes over your child’s sense of self-worth and individuality, explains ex-Google employee Tristan Harris as one of the outstanding dramatic sequences, as you see a pouting preteen pose for selfies overlaid with filters that warp her features until she looks like a cartoon character.
And then there are the graphs illustrating spiralling teen suicide rates, with students that constantly desire ‘likes’ on Facebook he’s created and that leaves you more vacant and empty.
AI and the algorithms behind social media are also flagged as a terrifying potential destroyer of social cohesion and their unpredictability sees a former operations manager of Facebook lament that they’re controlling us more than we’re controlling them, meaning that it’s extremely difficult for social media companies to stop them circulating fake news and thus eroding the concept of truth.
Then there’s the rise of the Flat Earth movement, that’s all thanks to a Youtube algorithm that recommended the conspiracy videos to viewers hundreds of millions of times.
Pizzagate went underground when Facebook’s algorithm promoted their groups to users it had identified as being susceptible to conspiracy theories, leading a man to turn up at a restaurant with a machine gun to free non-existent child hostages from an imaginary basement.
And it’s easy to think that it was just a few foolish people who got convinced, warns the engineer who created the rogue Youtube algorithm, but the algorithm is getting smarter and smarter every day.
Today they’re convincing people that the Earth is flat, but tomorrow they will be convincing you of something else.
We might live in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, but despite it being public knowledge that Vote Leave and Trump’s 2016 election campaign harvested voter’s Facebook data on a massive scale, The Social Dilemma still manages to uncover new and vital whispers of how these platforms destabilise modern politics.
A Harvard Business School professor dismissed the idea that we can sidestep their political influence by revealing Facebook’s massive scale contagion experiments which made users vote in the US midterm elections, without them even realising they’d been motivated to do so.
Then there was the Russian Facebook hack to influence the 2016 US election. The Russians didn’t hack Facebook, they just used the instruments that Facebook made for legitimate advertisers, gripes one of the company’s ex investors.
And Harris demonstrates that there’s now a market where state actors pay to destabilise democracies across the globe, which now represents an existential threat to the survival of nations.
And now, it’s so utterly necessary that regulation is a must, and now there’s a website, thesocialdilemma.com, offering help for parents, actions to help fight disinformation and ways to sign up to Harris’s Centre for Humane Technology which strives to transform the culture in the tech industry as well as encouraging politicians to legislate.
Harris said that we can demand that these products be designed humanely – we built these things and we have a responsibility to change them, and the first step is to watch this outstanding documentary, and encourage others to do so.