‘The Social Dilemma’ documentary takes a hard look at the manipulations of social media


I started to watch this while I scrolled through Facebook. Then, as I became more and more creeped out, I turned off my cell phone.

“The Social Dilemma” is a scary documentary that has nothing to do with the supernatural. Instead, it focuses on how addictive – and how planned – is this addiction so many people have to social media.

Jeff Orlowski’s (“Chasing Coral”) film “The Social Dilemma” puts the spotlight not on the users of social media, but rather on the developers, former employees who admit the goals of social media are to keep you posting, scrolling and engaged.

Push notifications and other carefully, personally honed information keep people – read “people like me” – engaged continuously, eager to hit “like” and to see just how popular our pictures, video and posts are.

Orlowski talks to a variety of people who helped design parts of social media. They talk about how social media influences the way people think, shop and vote — how social media permeates every facet of a user’s life.

Anna Lembke from Stanford University, is an addictions expert who discusses how companies manipulate our need for interpersonal connections.

Along the way are dramatizations of how social media can have a negative effect on families (Turn my phone off during dinner? Are you kidding?) and individuals.
Data mining and other technology also are among the topics.

It wouldn’t be fair to review this solid documentary without mentioning a predecessor. Jon Hyatt’s superb “Screened Out” focuses on the effect of screen time on young brains.

“The Social Dilemma” is for thinking adults who might be surprised at why they spend so much time on social media.

Your presence on Instagram might be more controlled than you think it is. Put your phone down and take a look at this movie instead.

3 out of 4 stars

Rated PG-13 for some violent images.
Running time: One hour and 34 minutes.
Streaming on Netflix.

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