5 Steps You Can Take After Watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma

Dept. of Observing and Reporting


While Netflix’s documentary on the dangers of social media, The Social Dilemma, raises many issues with, and caused by, social media, it is nevertheless a little light on solid actions that individual users (as opposed to governments or regulators) can take. Cramming a few suggestions into the credits after almost 93 minutes of talking about the problems of social media, seems a little light, so we’ve come up with 5 steps you might want to think about, if you found yourself freaked out by The Social Dilemma.

1. Notifications Off!

One of the few recommendations The Social Dilemma does make during the credits, and one echoed by almost all the participants, is to turn off any notifications on your phone that regularly tempt you to open up your social media apps. The algorithms powering these platforms are optimized to command your attention, so the first thing to do is to change your relationship with them.

You don’t need to stop using the apps altogether, but you can control when you look at them. No one really needs to see every single update as they happen, especially if it’s unimportant garbage trying to get your attention. You’re better off disabling all notifications, vibrations, and sounds for anything but the most urgent of updates, or direct messages, if you are heavily using the platform’s messaging service.

No, getting “likes” on that cute pic you posted, does not count as “urgent.” You can always check in later, at a time better suited to you, and in the meantime, you can actually concentrate on something (anything!) else.

2. DON’T Get With the Program

It’s not that you actually need those likes in the first place. Disengaging from the platforms can be a little tricky, but as The Social Dilemma points out, human beings are “wired” to seek validation from others. The social media platforms have just capitalised on that. “Likes,” retweets, shares, comments, they’re all nice, sure, but they are not everything.

You are not your Instagram profile. Very few people are. While many apps purport to show the “real you,” many high profile users have entire teams, from hair stylists and makeup artists, to photo editors, dedicated to making them look good. Those who make their living from these platforms also have a vested interest in making it look as enticing as possible to bring you back every day/hour/minute. They’re rarely going to post about the systematic issues with those platforms. Think about what you actually want to get out of social media, and focus your attention/time on that.

3. Time Is on My Side, Yes It Is

Social media isn’t all bad. There is some good in it. For keeping in touch with old friends, or even making new ones (but be careful). Millions of people have also made useful business (and more… pleasurable) connections, and built successful real world businesses over social networks. You do, however, need to be aware of the pitfalls. Key to this is actually thinking about your usage of the platform, and devices in general. Just being aware of the amount of time you spend using it, can change your own perception of your social media usage.

Thankfully both Android devices and iPhones have built in features for tracking your app/social media usage on the phone itself.

As highlighted in the documentary by Dr. Anna Lembke, Stanford University’s Medical Director of Addiction Medicine, you may be vastly underestimating the number of hours you spend on social media every day. (Her own son certainly seemed to.)

Don’t think of this as some rod to use to beat yourself up. Once you’ve seen what your normal usage is over a couple of days/weeks then you can decide if that’s time well spent, or if you would prefer to invest that time in other activities.

The key is that you decide how much time you want to spend on social, not some weird Pete Campbell modelled A.I.

If you find yourself still having problems cutting down on that time, then there are plenty of additional tools available for helping you limit the amount of time you spend.

If you are already thinking about ways to get around any limiters on your phone, and/or browsers on your laptop, then: 1) maybe you really do need more professional help with this; 2) you’re missing the point, no one is going to stop you using social media but yourself. (You can also use browser plug-ins/extensions like Webtimer for Chrome, Mind the Time, Web / Social Media / Time Tracker for Firefox, or WasteNoTime for Safari to track how much time you spend on social media sites, there too.)

4. Knowing Where the Trap Is – That’s the First Step to Evading It.

“There’s no such thing as free lunch” and “if it’s too good to be true, THEN IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE,” are great aphorisms that are worth bearing in mind when it comes to any interaction, online or otherwise. As evidenced by the nearly constant presence of scams in Malaysian news headlines, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are plenty of people out there working off the basis that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Social media is exactly the same.

As the Social Dilemma points out, if you aren’t paying for a service then you are the product (although the Edward Tufte quote about users is a bit facetious, if cute). If you bear this in mind when engaging with these platforms, you can use them to your advantage.

Know that every click, every interaction, every pause as you scroll though your feed is tracked.

Think about what that says about you. And about the platform.  

Tailor the platforms to your liking. As a very basic example, viewing your Twitter Timeline using “latest tweets” instead of “top tweets” removes some, but not all, of the manipulation in your feed. It certainly makes it usable for me.

Don’t share hateful posts, even if just to dunk on them. Sharing toxicity just makes the platforms reward toxicity, which in turn leads to more toxic posts. Starve them of attention.

Never feed the trolls. Unless you are doing it for sport, in which case you do you, I guess.

Know that your time is valuable. Treasure it accordingly.

5. Trust No One

If the idea of doing any of this raises your hackles or inspires feelings of anger or resentment, then you might have bigger issues with your social media usage than the rest of us. No one here at Goggler is either qualified, or motivated, to help you with that. Very few people on the Internet are, which is why you should take pretty much everything you see on here with a tremendous helping of salt.

A huge problem with most of the social media platforms is the narrow band of the real world they expose you too. The algorithms are designed to maximise your time on them, which can lead to recommendation rabbit holes, as you are shown more and more information that is in keeping with your current beliefs. It is designed not to drive you away. But varied enough to capture your attention. Just know that this is tailored to you and not how the world actually appears.

The only way to combat this? Check alternate sources. Actively follow news sources you know you don’t agree with, so at least you can see opposing views. Don’t get your news from social media unless it is to go to a site you actually trust, or know its biases. Fact check that WhatsApp message before blindly forwarding it.

Try and search topics in your normal search engine and then again in
“private mode” or using Duck Duck Go, a search engine that returns results based upon the relevancy to your search terms and doesn’t personalise the results based upon your history, location, or other tracking information. See how the results you get differ from what you normally see.

It’s great when everyone on the internet seems to agree with you, but as The Social Dilemma shows, it’s not that everyone agrees, it’s that you aren’t seeing the whole picture. Seek out those other voices and hear them out. Maybe you’ll change your mind. You probably won’t, but at least you’ll have been exposed to contrary thought and engaged in some critical thinking.

You don’t need to take my word for it.

Go find out for yourself.

The Social Dilemma
93 minutes
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Cast: Tristan Harris, Jeff Seibert, Bailey Richardson, Lynn Fox, Aza Raskin, Tim Kendall, Jaron Lanier, Dr. Anna Lembke,  James Lembke, Mary Lembke, you and everyone you know.

The Social Dilemma is now streaming on Netflix. Social media platforms are everywhere. You are being watched. But you should watch Person of Interest at some stage to find out why.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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