September saw the release of The Social Dilemma; a feature length documentary telling us the hidden hours behind social media platforms by people who created and profited from them. 

While it did successfully incite a few scares to its audience about how certain sites monitor and tailor their adverts to us, I’m just not buying the idea the film is trying to put out. Here’s why.

By Jonathan Foley

Granted. It’s plausible that ‘fake news’ is able to travel six times faster nowadays than real news. And yes, I do agree that algorithms are in place so we see the ads they want us to see. 

No issues there. 

Let’s not get sucked into everything we hear on this show though. It carries a doomsday narrative that we’re all to blame, everything is presented as undisputed fact and no alternatives are ever suggested. 

The very people who spearheaded the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc are now slapping us on the wrist for using the products they wanted us to use in the first place. 

Noble as their intentions may be, it’s still hard to fully respect the speakers who’ve amassed millions from the corporation they are condemning; speakers who also make no plans to return or give away what they’ve pocketed. 

Social media has its ugly side. The year of 2020 has certainly shown us that but what the film fails to encourage is the idea that we are still all responsible for what we believe and what we share. 

In itself, these companies have decimated newspapers and other print industries. It has flourished under the Constitutional Law that it can grow without government interference and regulation. 

It has passed information on to advertisers so that in essence, your data allows them to decide what products you should see appear on your news feed, but now, their case of ‘Billionaires Remorse’ is being spouted on you. 

The question remains, however, has this not always been the way? Think about it. 

TV commercials were always geared to certain audiences at certain times of the day and through certain programmes we watched. 

During golf coverage, ads for holiday breaks came on and at halftime in the football, beer ads came our way. Targeted audiences.  

Fast food chains brand Happy Meals so that children will associate the establishment with positive memories as they grow older. The trailers we watch before each movie at the cinema will differ from screen to screen; depending on what your current film of choice is.

Do you think the kids sitting down to watch the matinee Disney flick are being shown the upcoming features for the latest horror movies? Of course they aren’t.

As it was then, it is now. We’re just more aware of it – and frightened by it – nowadays. 

Historically, people with the most to lose have always feared change. 

There was a time when fictional novels were demonized for corrupting the minds of children. When cars and bikes were invented, folks who sold horses were in outcry and even the invention of the telephone had some proclaiming the end of the postal services was nigh. 

And even here in Letterkenny, with the term of ‘fake news’ in mind.

In the run-up to the All-Ireland Final in 2012, when tickets for Donegal v Mayo were like gold-dust, how many local shops, barbers and butchers ran ‘Like and Share’ competitions for a pair of tickets to the game? Loads did. 

How many actually had tickets to begin with and how many announced winners? Very few, if indeed any. 

Even this showed that people would believe what they wanted to believe when the reality of a shoe repair shop owner having not one, but two highly sought after match tickets to give away was completely ludicrous.

Logging off social media won’t change anything, but I do agree that some ‘keyboard heroes / warriors’ have taken things too far. The reality though is that this behaviour is a societal issue. 

I’m also in agreement that certain sites can wreak havoc with the wellbeing of its users; particularly younger people and that’s something we should all be aware of going forward. That’s a topic in itself for another day though.

If social media is a monster, it’s one that we as society created and continue to feed. Education on how to conduct ourselves on it as well as being objective when scrolling through the material content will help us; simple as that. 

The Social Dilemma is definitely a show that’s worthy of a 92-minute viewing and it does provide certain food-for-thought. Just be sure to take some of that serving with a pinch of salt.

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