There Are Two Sides To The Debate About ‘The Social Dilemma’ On Netflix. Where Do You Land?

I’ve never seen such a divided populace.

I’m not talking about the presidential debate on Tuesday night this week. There are two distinct camps when it comes to the response to the documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma. I’ve watched the movie twice now and taken more notes.

When I wrote about the film the first time, I asked readers to send me their thoughts and if they plan to delete a social media app. I included a call to action to temporarily remove an app you use too much. Mine turned out to be Instagram and I stopped using it over a week ago. Quite a few people said they were deleting Facebook.

Wow, just wow. Dozens and dozens of emails arrived each day. There are some serious accusations going on here from both sides. I won’t include exact comments from emails to protect reader privacy, but I’ve also scoured comments and posts about the movie and have summarized what both sides think.

It’s a fairly simple division between the two: You either think the social media companies are to blame for making these apps too addictive and feel they need to do something about it or you argue that the user needs to take more responsibility. We can delete apps (as I suggested) or limit our screen time. The movie goes to great lengths to demonstrate how companies like Facebook feed all of the right data to you at just the right time. They get us all hooked like fish. 

Now, let me state my position for the record. I’m somewhere in the middle. I talked to productivity expert Nir Eyal recently (he wrote the book Indistractable) and we tend to agree on this: There is great value in using these apps. I have family in Europe and we Facebook chat constantly. I post links to my articles on Twitter. I’m not about to say we should all stop using social media. Even Cal Newport, a computer scientist and book author who is highly critical of social media abuses, has said we should use the apps more like professional schedulers and marketing people. Which means using them in a pre-determined way with set parameters.

So I’m taking the side of those guys. Patting my own back.

Seriously, I can’t quite see deleting them or doing a prolonged social media fast. However, this is where all of those incoming emails really made me think. Many of them were from parents. A few were from “former addicts” which you could sarcastically say is offensive to real addicts. However, there is a theme here that’s worth noticing: Some dissenters argue that The Social Dilemma is a propaganda film. I can only assume they have never been to a school cafeteria or bus stop.

There is simply no denying we are using our phones too much. You have to completely insulate yourself from society to ignore that fact. The most commonly used apps? They are all social media related. So the reason I’m in the middle is that I don’t completely agree that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have absolutely no responsibility to address overuse, at least for kids and young adults. I’d like to see more warnings about screen time from those companies and better tools to raise awareness.

Look, my entire journalistic career was built on social media. I run a Facebook group with over 1,000 members and it’s really helpful. I love Twitter, I’m constantly on LinkedIn. I get hooked on these apps just as easily as anyone. 

One side says: Automakers are not to blame for car accidents. The other side says: Do you know the history of the tobacco industry at all?

It’s one reason I go back to the original plea. At least for a while, try deleting a couple of apps. That’s it. Try not using them for a while, see what happens. See if you engage more with others. See if your quality of life improves.

Mine certainly has. I used to think about which photos I was going to post to show how my writing process is going and to connect with potential readers. I was using Instagram too often and was constantly strategizing about how to use it even more. I was seeing some success in building a following. Twitter is more like a utility and a functional asset these days so it’s not as compelling.

So, I doubt anyone will win this debate.

I do hope, for those of you who think the social media giants have no responsibility at all, that you’ll start noticing how much kids and young people use these apps. There are some changes Facebook and others can make.

Kids don’t fully realize what is happening to them. We do.

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