It is not new news that social media has been crushing our country for the past few years.

It only takes two minutes scrolling on Facebook or opening up Twitter for me to feel depressed and anxious. I’m constantly wondering why I’m seeing advertisements about a product I thought I only talked about with my husband over coffee pop up all over my internet feed. And how do we even discuss the discourse in the United States right now where it seems like truths and facts are not universal, but in fact dependent on your political affiliation?

Enter The Social Dilemma, a modern-day horror film about the dangers of social media.

The docudrama was released earlier this week by Netflix, and trust me when I say you will be afraid. And even though I found the entire movie terrifying, I’m going to watch it again with my husband and three teenagers tonight. 

Yes, it’s that important.

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The film dives headfirst into the damage social media is causing society, focusing on its exploitation of its users for financial gain via psychological tactics and extreme data mining. I cringed a little when a former Google employee dropped the hammer by saying, “When you don’t pay for a product, then you are the product.”

In essence, tech companies make money by manipulating us to stay online longer. Much like the relationship between an addict and a dealer, the algorithms tech companies use are focused on dangling information in front of us that will make us want to consume again and again. Judging by who the richest corporate CEOs are, it’s working.

While most people are familiar with the downside of the internet, including mental health issues, disinformation campaigns, and consumer privacy concerns, The Social Dilemma goes behind the scenes into some of the biggest tech companies like never before.

For 94 minutes, former tech innovators at companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter explain how we inadvertently, yet deliberately, arrived at this co-dependent social networking relationship.

These interviews are combined with a dramatized story of how one family is impacted by their addiction to social networking and the humanization of the algorithm that illustrates how hard it is trying to get our attention. It paints an extremely disturbing picture of the future.

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The devil is in the details though (yes, it gets worse). I physically cringed when one tech exec explained how they were constantly creating small features to keep us online and checking our devices. The ability to tag friends in photos, the movement of pulling your screen down to see what’s new, and yes, even those three little ellipses that tell you someone is responding are all meant to keep us online a little while longer—and each one has worked on me.

Every action we make online is monitored and logged to build a file of who we are as individuals: our likes and dislikes, what makes us sad or angry, how long we stayed on a particular post, what will we click on again and again. 

I do believe that the intent was pure in the beginning. Give the people what they want, and make the experience better so they are happy. Customize their advertising to make purchasing simple. It’s good for everyone.

Or so we thought.

Unfortunately, the negatives are far outweighing the positives. The documentary goes into detail regarding how other governments are using the tools these social networks created to make money from advertisers as weapons against our country. Our social media feeds have developed into echo chambers basically reaffirming our world views over and over again until we think a differing opinion is absurd. Different sets of truths and facts are distributed to multiple groups depending upon their online behavior creating constant discourse. All while we are constantly searching for affirmation from our friends’ list which often is comprised of people we don’t see in real life.

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According to one interviewee, “We are creating digital Frankensteins.” Ouch.

The net-net is The Social Dilemma detailed a real threat to our country and democracies throughout the world.

While I’m quite certain my blood pressure was elevated throughout the film, it did try to display some optimism toward the end. It discussed reclaiming our tech usage and putting public pressure on increased regulation and oversight upon the entire industry. We must hold these powerhouses accountable.

And I couldn’t agree more. As a social media professional, I knew most of this already. I understood the algorithm and even play the game a little bit to get people to click and like posts for my clients.

But as a parent, the most chilling line of the film came when someone explained that soon there will no longer be a generation that didn’t live under the illusion of social media. “How do you learn about the matrix when you don’t know you are in the matrix?” 

As was said throughout the film, I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle. Social media in one form or the other is here to stay, and as long as we look like a profitable product to a company, we will continue to be exploited.

It sounds dramatic when I say it out loud, but will this be the greatest challenge we face in our country? 

In my humble opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. But watch the film for yourself.

It could be the wake-up call we need to unplug, if only for a little longer.

Just be aware, however. They know how to get you back online.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.