Review of The Social Dilemma (2020)

Moving picture, 94 minutes

Seen in 2020.

Mostly US professionals involved in the development of social media, expressing their concerns with the unintended consequences of funding their businesses through personally invasive data mining for the purposes of political and corporate propaganda.

I don’t know who has the worse hair: Lanier or Zuboff. It certainly isn’t Ben or Cass, the two most prominent fictional characters in a series of dramatizations where everyone is physically attractive and an “Extreme Center” political movement radicalizes its followers.

The interviews are very good. The dramatizations are not. It is symptomatic, and a sign of serious weakness, that Netflix decided to include all these “TV pretty” ostensibly typical citizens in the dramatizations and decided to exclude real political causes. The interviews thankfully reference real companies, but there are only allusions to Cambridge Analytica, no details on that, probably because the truth would be politically relevant and therefore possible to interpret as partisan. Cass is a contradictory knock-off of Ally Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club (1985), while Ben gets to be at the centre of an obtuse anthropomorphic metaphor for algorithms, as the athletic middle-class US white boy representing the human condition, the same way the USA made social-issue documentaries in the 1950s. The unrealistic appearance of the family mirrors what is attributed to social media, and must be harmful in the same way.

This is a Netflix production, and their first talked-about hit after they released Cuties (2020) for the pedophile audience. Netflix pretended in bad faith that Cuties was a satire about the deleterious effects of social media. Netflix is not social media, but it is a data-mining and data-driven—yet opaque—direct-to-consumer, for-profit business that has pulled a lot of dirty tricks—including race-based advertising—to compete for attention. Like Amazon, Netflix is a both a marketplace and a seller on that marketplace. Netflix is almost everything The Social Dilemma attacks and is never mentioned in the film.

moving picture non-fiction