Any good movie leaves you with more questions than answers. Some movies even have you asking what the question is. Netflix’s The Social Dilemma is one of them. The movie suggests that social networking services (SNS), like Twitter, Facebook and they included YouTube has brought us from the Information Age to the Misinformation Age. It suggests that it directly contributes to many other global shifts in the way humanity now operates, but misinformation was its focal point. Misinformation is the point that I would like to focus on because it directly hampers learning in my classroom. Well, it affects everyone of course, but it interferes with, or at least throws unnecessary distractions into the learning process.

The Social Dilemma provides details about how Facebook, as just one of many examples, manipulates our way of thinking and making decisions. We are the product being sold to advertisers who manipulate what we see and read to influence our purchasing habits and get us to click the “purchase” button, or at least one more bait click. Advertisers pay billions for the ability to manipulate our purchasing habits. Lobbyist and other political groups find it a bargain to sway our beliefs and values in their favour. This is why consumers pay nothing for these apps and are just users. BTW, the movie mentions that only the drug and software industries refer to their clients as “users”, which reflects on the addictiveness of the products.

The movie provides some superficial solutions, some Band-Aid fixes, such as deleting your SNS accounts, pull information rather than have it pushed out. But, what if, like many apps, users could stop the advertising by paying for the app straight out, or as a subscription. How much would that cost I could not imagine, probably tens of thousands of dollars per user to remain competitive with what advertisers pay SNS services for ability to manipulate our next move.

If we remove this financial aspect however, and focus on the ethical issues raised in the movie then content we receive might only be content we request. It might be content that is not being manipulated by AI algorithms to sway our own best interests, content that is purely by a pull request. We would not be manipulated by (as much) misinformation, nor would we be inundated by distracting click bait. Would the addiction factor decrease? I would say yes, but this is of course all speculation.

Offering an SNS subscriber service is a potential solution. But how much would we pay to regain our online freedom and be able to think our own thoughts and not the thoughts of the last unique newsfeed that was pushed out to each individual? If we want an informed society that is not being led by misinformation, then a dramatic change needs to be done and this might be one potential solution, if it were financial viable.

But a shift this large will take a while, so in the meantime just turn off all your disruptive notifications and get some peace.


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