The Social Dilemma

By now most of you have heard of The Social Dilemma, a documentary available on Netflix. It paints a frightening picture of how social media not only tracks and keeps up with our clicks and likes, but actually manipulates us through them. According to this documentary, we are not the customers of the businesses that buy advertising. We are the product being sold to businesses in the form of information and influence. It’s hard to argue with the concept as it is presented. It has credibility due to the people interviewed who worked for companies like Facebook, Google, Instagram, and many others.

This concept is not a new one to us in some ways. We all click “agree” when asked to agree to the terms of a website – often without reading them. Many websites we visit tell us that they use cookies, and it is necessary to agree to this in order to proceed.

I’ve read of those who have, after watching this documentary, logged off of all social media. There is probably some wisdom in that, but there is also a sacrifice.

Are We Permanently Connected?

On a personal level, how many relationships have we established … and re-established … because of Facebook. I can name several people with whom I enjoy staying in touch. Without Facebook that wouldn’t have happened. The Bible Study groups I was a part of for the years before Facebook (like Berean Spirit) provided connections I still treasure. It sounds funny, but an MSN group called Aunt Bee’s Parlor was operated by a godly Christian woman in Canada and provided a lot of encouragement and a haven for those who were hurting and needed ministry of prayer and the Word. I’m still friends with “Aunt Bee” (Yes, I do know her real name!) and some of the people in that group. Those relationships have endured because of, primarily, Facebook. Not to mention family connections, high school friends, and the groups feature that has also provided many opportunities.

On a professional level, I’m not sure how to proceed forward without Facebook. Our church’s Facebook page is the location for our video Bible studies and interactions. Newly interested people can find out about what our church is like and interact with the ministers there. We have 50 in person, but 250-350 watching online. It’s a great front door to our church – much more so than our website. Our church Facebook group is not public, so it allows us to share things there without involving the wider Facebook world. We are together in person a few hours a week (some of us) but on Facebook we are connected every day throughout the week. That’s valuable to me. I’m sure there are churches that are doing just fine without any of that, but it surely keeps them from casting the net as we hope to be doing.

The Social Dilemma isn’t all about Facebook alone. It details how Google uses their various offerings to gather information, including Gmail. Google owns YouTube, Facebook owns Instagram, and on it goes. It’s almost enough to make you want to be a social media hermit.


Have you been uncomfortable about the amount of information available about yourself through using these kinds of social offerings? The Social Dilemma contends that it’s not just about mechanical usage, but psychological manipulation, addictive behaviors (do you keep feeding pretend cows and plowing pretend fields?), and predictive sales. We already know that there’s a thin veil between our conversations in front of our phones and computers and the ads that show up the next time we log on.

What About Young People and Children?

Another emphasis of the documentary is the effect this is having on young people and children. I didn’t grow up with the online world in front of my face. Maybe we won’t know the result of this until it’s too late. But this documentary is giving us some insights if we want to hear them.

The truth is that even if we acknowledge the facts presented by The Social Dilemma, I’m not sure many people are going to actually change anything. I’m not sure I can change much. If I switch to one of the emails they suggest, then I’ve got to pay a yearly fee for freedom from sharing my personal information. I guess that’s fair, but I use several products in the Google suite (Drive, Docs, etc.). That’s hard to give up.

So I don’t know what to do this information. I can use Safari more than Google. I can change my email and pay the fee (It’s not THAT much). I can stop playing games, even though I do enjoy them. I can try to help parents to see how this is overtaking their children’s personalities. Remember, I thought I was high tech when I got a beeper. Now, no one under 18 would know what a beeper is.

Your phones, computers, laptops, iPads, and tablets are connections to the world around you. But they are also connections of the world around you into your private world. That’s uncomfortable.

I suppose that’s why it’s a dilemma. I’d love to hear your reactions to the documentary.

1 Comment

  1. After watching, I was tempted to just shut it all down. A week or so later, I caught myself getting very upset as I listened to people get ugly about what someone else had posted on Facebook. I realize that we all get to choose what content to post and who we choose to follow. Sadly, I found myself hiding friends and family members that I love because, internally, I was reacting negatively to their posts. The documentary and my emotional responses to posts led me to look deep inside to find what would bring me peace. Obviously, more social media was not going to do that. I announced at devo that night that I was going to delete Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter apps from my phone for at least a month. I have every intention of going back but I believe this “fast” from social media will help me in the future if/when I find myself being affected negatively. It’s not for everyone but it has been great for me. Two weeks into my fast, I feel great but I miss certain activities in which I was involved only through social media.

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