The Social Dilemma


I haven’t watched the film (Netflix has it now, so it’s getting attention), but will, and then I’ll dig into this critique and write something back here. If you see other worthy critiques please leave them in the comments!

One focus lately has been on algorithms and their amplification of hate and misinformation, or their use to avoid responsibility and obfuscate greed, which have been truly despicable (h/t Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction). That said, this is not fundamentally new ā€” our systems already encouraged irresponsibility and greed to a pathological degree, and our anti-trust enforcement has been weak for decades, so getting where we are now was a likely waypoint.

I don’t join most of the newer services but like most people am quite attached to some people/groups on the ones I use, and don’t know immediately what alternatives would meet the same needs. And while I can imagine (and predict) doing a lot to help particular groups and individuals shift to alternatives, it’s clearly an area where having done it will help show people it is possible.

Does it have to be all-or-nothing? If you only go to particular groups, pages, individuals on a service then you are following your own nose, not what the algorithm tells you. Except for popup alerts, sidebar recommendations. Okay yes. And then there are browser plugins which can hide those and help defang other things to a degree, for example Facebook Container (blocks some tracking). But I mean ā€” raise your hand if you battling with the websites you use by installing special code? No one? And yet here we are. What cost would you rather pay, to have a web you trusted?

It’s a problem which extends far beyond algorithms or social media, leading inevitably to questions of how funding influences information & communication, the advertising bubble, propaganda, capitalism itself, and most of all how we understand people and the universe generally.

But writing for any of these companies is gifting them our labor. I’d rather give it closer to myself, here. ( as of this writing, but easily transferred to my own domain, and even my own server since WordPress is free software.)


4 Responses to “The Social Dilemma”

  1. 1 David M. Hazen

    I enjoyed “Flamethrowers” very much, it seemed so right on. Diverting responsibility from ourselves onto technology is, well, irresponsible! As Yoda said, “There is no try. Do or do not.” We simply have to ask ourselves what kind of person we want to BE, before we wonder about what tools, what kind of DOING, would serve that purpose.

  2. Of course we can’t wait until we’re ‘done’ figuring out what kind of person we want to be before we start doing things, and in fact the process of figuring out what we want to be is aided by real world experience. So it is an iterative process…

    …and when to be in which mode.

    • 3 David M. Hazen

      Yes, I’ve already entertained a fantasy of a return to Facebook some time in the future, wondering if it would be anonymously or pseudonymously, what my motivations could be, or if I’ll build a social network elsewhere… so many unknowns at this point, too early to say.

  3. Two things, I use Social Fixer to have more fine grain control over FB: (aside, check out this and secondly, a foundational book for me is Jerry Mander’s: Absence of the Sacred; the failure of technology and the survival of Indian Nations. (

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