The Social Dilemma

Let's do a simple experiment. Go out to Google and start searching the phrase: "climate change is". What do you see? Do the suggested results look like what you see below?



Based on where you are in the world, or even your recent search history, you may be subject to different results. That is how these algorithms work. Perhaps you've wondered, "How does John think this? How can he just ignore all of this information?" Well...it's entirely possible that John never sees the same information that you do...


This week's episode of Byte Club takes a dive into Netflix’s latest documentary, The Social Dilemma. SPOILER WARNING! If you have not seen the documentary yet, we highly encourage that you watch it first before listening to our podcast and reading any further.

The main idea of The Social Dilemma is that big social media companies, such as Facebook and Google, are competing against one another for our time and attention. Through the use of complex machine learning algorithms, these social media platforms appeal to the psychological part of our brains to keep us on their platforms for as long as possible. That's all that matters. The technology is groundbreaking, but at what cost?

What are some issues that the documentary brings to light?

  1. Social media platforms only show users posts that interest them. This keeps them on the platforms, but also leads to the spread of misinformation and societal divide.

  2. These technologies started off as a tool to make people's lives easier and free up their time, but have since turned into something that consumes a large part of an individual's time.

  3. Users of these social platforms are not the customer, they are the product.


Engagement. Growth. Advertising. The three goals of the social media giants. Did you actually go on Google and search about climate change? If you did, you fell for the trap. While it served as a useful example of what these platforms do, I was really just trying to demonstrate how easy it is. Most of the time, you don't even notice what is going on until you've watched 2 hours of dog videos on YouTube. These apps don't care about you or your interests. The only thing that matters is how you use the app, and if you are staying engaged. Congrats, lab rat.


It may not come as a surprise to anyone that these companies are trying to make money. After all, they are a for-profit business. How do they make money? They sell your data to advertisers. If the app is free, you are not their customer. The advertisers are the customers, they pay to advertise on these platforms. Your engagement is the product.


Perhaps this is one time in which technology originally intended to bring people together is separating our society more than ever.


Want to learn more? Listen to this episode of Byte Club. Available on all major podcasting platforms!




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