IF something online is free, then you are NOT the customer, you are the PRODUCT.
This aphorism couldn’t be explained better than in Emmy award winning American director Jeff Orlowskis latest film, The Social Dilemma, streaming now on Netflix.
Privacy concerns during online usage is an important matter these days and while we all know the dangers of putting our lives online, we continue using apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Google etc.,that can be risky.
All because we are bedazzled like kids in a candy store. These apps are fun, in a boring boring real world and make us feel connected, without actually having to put in too much effort. And we think, it’s kind of free. Is it?
Like in his previous two films that won a lot of critical acclaim and also criticism for scare mongering, the docudramas on climate change, Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral, here too Mr Orlowski with all good intentions and some Doomsday predictions, shows the internet for what it is; a place where nothing is private and nothing a secret.
To bring the message home, he lets us hear it from the horses mouth, people who have created these apps, Internet experts, geniuses, acclaimed authors and writers, and those who have worked in these offices.
People like Tim Kendall, former President of Pinterest, who also worked at Facebook, Tristan Harris, co-founder and president of the Center for Humane Technology, who also worked at Google. Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and philosophy writer who has penned several books like Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and You Are Not a Gadget, among many others. There are more.
All well and good. Extremely essential topic. A bit of scratchy filmmaking for ordinary people like you and me who would appreciate better filmography and more interesting storytelling in getting the idea out. And yet, it remains an important, relevant, timely film.
We all know that our information is shared with advertisers by internet companies to rake in money. So while we forgo privacy concerns that don’t seem to bother most people, even ones like me who use a lot of social media for work promotions and a bit of socialising too, the real concern is about getting addicted to it and also that our reactions are controlled by these apps. How does that happen?
When we use social media apps a lot, our responses and behaviour are orchestrated. It is quite naturally, a by product of being led by a third party, the apps that make us believe and say and feel a whole lot of things that perhaps we would not, if left all by ourselves, to bring about an organic emotional response.
Social media is Big Brother watching us all the time! Telling us what to do and what not to do, what to buy, what music to listen to, which type of friend so hang it with, how we are going to look when we are 72 years old and how our imaginary child with some hot dude or babe is going to look like. And we love it.
They know how long you’re looking at something, how seriously you’re looking at something, how many times you’ve looked at something, like maybe your ex lover’s pictures and how you’re feeling, at that particular moment.
Maybe you’re nervous, lonely, bored or even happy, excited, flirtatious etc., what’s your personality profile, what you’re doing up late at night and suddenly all newsfeeds and ads surrounding you become tailored to what you want. It’s like the proverbial carrot and stick policy.
Motive: To hook you, let you be addicted to the internet and drown in it. Well, yeah, sometimes.
It’s also about making the rich internet companies, even richer.
In this film, there is a scene with sinister figures standing near a giant screen and checking what a character in the movie, checking his mobile phone is doing. The three, are a metaphor for Artificial Intelligence that should be what we fear on social media.
These three figures confer among themselves that in case his surfing speed is slowing, they need to lessen ads and show something from family and friends, to keep his interest flowing.
They have him and countless others like us, in their grip.
We know this bullshit. We just never thought of it so hard. Like one of the experts who are interviewed, in the film says, it is like stimulating nerve cells on a spider to see what causes its legs to respond.
What’s interesting is that some of these experts who are warning us of the dangers of social media are also disarmingly talking about which apps they are addicted to. Let’s face it. We’re all just human.
In a simple summary; my take away from the movie, The Social Dilemma was that:
Making money by using our information and selling them to advertisers which in turn increases sale of a zillion products and making internet companies among the richest today, is still okay.
But emotional manipulation of our responses is not.
What’s the solution? Regulation.
Laying down rules for internet companies and rights for users. Has that happened so far? NO.
Alarmist? Not really. One does get carried away by what one sees, hears, reads and that in turn influences a lot of decisions we make.
Realistic, I would call it.
1 hour, 35 minutes, streaming now on Netflix, India
Stay aware. Stay scared.