The Social Dilemma & Big Data: A Full Analysis and Insight

The Social Dilemma & Big Data: A Full Analysis and Insight

“Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.” – The Social Dilemma

“Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.” – The Social Dilemma
In 2020, The Social Dilemma sparked a conversation about the role social media plays in our collective consciousness. Featuring a cast of former executives and innovators from organizations like Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and Uber, the documentary explores the evolution of social media from a tool for connection into a business built on manipulation and consumption.

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The Social Dilemma highlights an uncomfortable truth: social media platforms manipulate our behaviors to convince each of us to pour more of our attention into the platform. What the engineers at these major organizations didn’t anticipate were the negative impacts this always-on hyper-optimization would carry with it. Specifically, The Social Dilemma argues that social media has an increasingly negative effect on:

“Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.” – The Social Dilemma

Understanding the algorithm

When society was first introduced to the world of social media, news feeds were curated chronologically—we saw whatever our friends and connections shared, in the order they were posted, starting with the most recent. Over time, the platforms adapted a more curated business model built around a constantly evolving algorithm. Be it LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, or a majority of the other major big tech platforms, each of these organizations is working diligently to optimize the user experience to keep you scrolling longer.
This algorithm isn’t just a process for placing content; it’s an entire network of formulas and programs built to test and explore everything it can to keep people clicking. Through a combination of trending recommendations, high-engagement connections, and content aligned to your historical viewing habits, the algorithm delivers a sequence of content catered directly to preferences.
By design, social media algorithms exclusively show viewers content that it believes the audience will engage with; that means they intentionally avoid sharing discussions and news around topics you or I might disagree with. This absence of differing opinions inadvertently validates our worldview and, right or wrong, makes differing opinions feel more extreme.
The algorithm thrives on optimization. Because billions of people create and engage with trillions of social media posts every day for over a decade, social media platforms collect a massive store of customer data. Every click, view, swipe, like, notification and comment is tracked, stored, and analyzed to create a hyper-optimized experience designed to keep all of us engaged. That data, and what social media companies do with it, has massive value.

Invisibly vs. The Social Dilemma

Throughout The Social Dilemma, the documentary speculates on big tech’s obligation to taking a more ethical approach to their offerings. Throughout the early 2010’s, British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected personal data from roughly 87 million Facebook profiles without consent. The firm used that information to feed the social media engines behind the 2016 presidential campaigns for both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica’s clear misuse of user data was only possible because Facebook didn’t give its users the proper tools to monitor, consent to, and control how their data was used.
Providing active consent and user control are the missing pieces from the social media experience. For everyday people, control is the most significant gray spot in our digital routine. We hardly understand what data is being collected, when it’s being collected, or what it’s used for. And the company policies explaining the brand’s data practices are frequently dense and overwritten. The option is binary—either use the platform and accept that you’re the product, or don’t. Controlling the value of your data suggests a better model, a world where customers and companies both profit from it.
Throughout The Social Dilemma, the storytellers emphasize four key points:
  1. Social media is vague and addictive by design.
  2. Big Tech doesn’t care about the well being of its users.
  3. Governments are slow to solve the problem.
  4. The only way to break the algorithm is to act on your own.
In the same way The Social Dilemma calls on people to reassess their relationship with social media, we believe tech companies are obligated to reassess their relationship with user data to create more ethically-sound policies–and we believe that starts with us.
That’s why we built our model around a simple set of beliefs:
  1. People should control when and how their data is used.
  2. Tech companies should have clear and accessible data policies.
  3. Everyone should be able to profit from their data.
People are people—not commodities. At Invisibly, we empower people with their data. Everyone deserves the opportunity to engage with a social internet without being manipulated, to understand how their actions are being monitored, analyzed, and applied, and to get paid for their data.

How you can take back control

Ultimately, The Social Dilemma ends with a call for tech reform and oversight while encouraging the industry to own its actions and adopt a more ethical approach to technology. Right now, governing bodies worldwide are either enacting or considering legislation to dictate the future of data and data privacy for their businesses and citizens. Although those policies feel inevitable, they are still bound to the pace of federal policy. In the meantime, there are five recommendations we can all take to push back against big tech.

1. Delete your social media accounts

Why not start with an extreme? Breaking a habit is never an easy task, but the cleanest, most straightforward approach to safeguarding your mental health, impressionability, and improving your communication skills is simply pulling the plug. Even if it’s just for a few weeks, breaking the scrolling cycle can do wonders to reset your relationship with social media (and throw the algorithm for a loop).

2. Turn off your notifications

Few things can get you scrolling and derail productivity like notifications sent directly to your phone, watch, laptop, or tablet. Social media platforms use notifications to entice you back onto the platform and get you swiping again. By turning off notifications, you’re no longer responding to an outside impulse but are instead choosing to engage in the social media experience when and where you choose. No more interruptions, no more false urgency, and no more vague intrigue around what you may or may not be missing.
3. Don’t engage with their recommendations
Every platform likes to pepper in random posts and videos from unfamiliar channels to help grow those audiences and keep users engaged with different yet relevant content streams. Don’t fall into the trap. Stick to engaging with the people and brands you’ve intentionally connected with. The algorithm might never stop sending recommended content, but at least you know you’re not giving it any more data to optimize its model.
4. Differentiate your inputs
Algorithms operate by funneling content into your feed based on what they know you’ll engage with. Consider intentionally seeking out voices and opinions that you might not traditionally follow—or even some you straight up disagree with. Not only will this throw a wrench into the algorithm’s planning process, but it will give you a better idea of how someone on the other side sees the world and maybe help you understand why they feel so passionately about their ideals.
5. Sign up for Invisibly
Sometimes you have to be a little shameless. Our data licensing service gets you in on the data monetization action without sacrificing ownership or control. Simply select the data sources you want to connect and sit back while we find interested partners.

The Social Dilemma outlines a very grim future. Whether you’re an influencer, daily poster, lurker, or the CEO of the next great platform, this is our opportunity to set a higher standard for our digital experience. Change is coming, but it starts with us. It’s time to examine your relationship with data and take control of your digital experience.



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