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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Social media can be both utopia and dystopia. Its business model is based on selling our attention to the highest advertising bidders. Echo chambers it creates for individuals is leading directly to misinformation, polarization, chaos. But individuals can take steps to reduce and redirect their own consumption of social media, and public pressure could bring about greater regulation, changes to the business model.
Positive Role Models
A series of former executives who helped create tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, among others, is speaking out about dangers of social media, the steps society needs to take to minimize the harm these companies are causing and havoc they have the potential to wreak. Doctors and specialists are spreading the word about psychological and social ills brought on by social media, including for kids. Not much diversity of experts/opinions.
Violence & Scariness
Violence is seen in images on the news, including in protests, riots, fires, mobs, bombings. In fictionalized scenes, a tween girl breaks open a plastic jar to get at her phone, later seems depressed by online comments, and a teen and his sister are arrested at a protest. Interviewees discuss rates of self-harm and suicide among teens and tweens.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Fictional teenagers flirt through social media.
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"S--t." "Damn." "God."
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Products & Purchases
Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Wikipedia, Apple, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Firefox, Mozilla. Professors from universities like Stanford, NYU, Harvard. Organizations including Center for Humane Technology, Human Rights Watch, Data for Democracy, Intuitive AI, AI Now Institute. News clips from major channels and daytime show The View. Films like The Truman Show, Terminator, The Matrix.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Addiction to social media is compared to drug use.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that while The Social Dilemma doesn't necessarily break new ground in the debate about the dangers of social media, it certainly provides plenty to worry about and some ways to take action. The people interviewed are unusual experts, in that many of them helped create the most popular social media sites today. Now they are speaking publicly about how the business model behind these sites treats customers as products to sell to advertisers. Teens may see their own experiences reflected in a fictional narrative set up to show the effects of social media addiction, the psychological harm of relying on social media for positive reinforcement, and the results of widespread misinformation. Violence is seen in images on the news, including protests, riots, fires, mobs, and bombings. In fictionalized scenes, a young girl breaks open a plastic jar to get at her phone, and a teen and his sister are arrested at a protest. Addiction to social media is compared to drug use, and interviewees discuss rates of self-harm and suicide among teens and tweens. At the end, the experts make a few recommendations that we can all do to try to reduce the hold social media has on us. Language includes "s--t," "damn," and exclamatory use of "God." The documentary doesn't offer much diversity of experts/opinions. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Mark Zuckerberg isn't mentioned by full name until late in this documentary, but his company's outsize influence on the world of social media is felt all over the film. The featured talking heads here have mostly left top tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter after having helped build them up, and now seem to suffer from a collective guilty conscience. That only adds to how convincing they are about the existential threat social media poses, and their expertise pulls back the curtain on the methods. "We're all lab rats," one person suggests in a documentary full of similarly worrying statements that leave the impression that social media is to blame for many -- if not most -- contemporary individual and societal ills.
Director Jeff Orlowski visualizes some of the talking head commentary in animated sequences and a dramatized fictional narrative about phone-addicted teens suffering from negative online commentary and being manipulated by artificial intelligence (played by Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser) to dive down outrage-driven rabbit holes. These sequences may help illustrate the ideas for some viewers, but they aren't totally necessary. As expert voice after voice predicts more addiction, psychological afflictions, polarization, radicalization, and echo-chamber ignorance, it's impossible not to see the immediate relevance of their warnings. They leave us with a few recommendations and suggestions that may not be enough to turn the tide without public pressure for top-down regulation, but The Social Dilemma makes it clear that we ignore them at our own peril.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.