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Is The Social Dilemma Real or Has NetFlix's Documentary Got it All Wrong?

By Hector Cisneros

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Most things in life, especially tools are like a two-edged sword. Social Media from the beginning has always shown these qualities. It has held the great promise of being the equalizer for consumers making it much harder for vendors to sell shoddy products or provide poor customer service. On the other hand, it has always invaded our privacy, even though it pretends to be a free subscription. Consumers have ignored the high cost of entry paid for by providing their personal information. I don't just mean their profile, but also all the behaviors a subscriber conducts. Everything is recorded for analysis while on any social network. When I watched the NetFlix Documentary called "The Social Dilemma" and was happy to see that a larger corporation was taking this subject seriously. In fact, it is the best documentary of its kind, exposing all the ugly things that are going on behind the social media green curtain.
Today, A.I. algorithms have taken this process of influencing consumer decisions to a whole new level. In fact, many internet giants have turned consumers from being purchasers of products and services" into the product that is being sold. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will discuss the documentary "The Social Dilemma" and how consumers have moved from being purchasers of goods and services to addicted users whose buttons are pushed to influencing them to do what internet giants want them to do. We will pull back the "Green Curtain" and discuss several of the elements discussed in the Netflix documentary and from our own experiences. My intention is to show that we are headed down the wrong path and that we need to make new choices and ask for new laws to protect us from such manipulation. We will expose this danger for what it is and show how it is causing havoc in society at large. So get ready to have your eyes opened and your smartphone scared to death as we explore what's behind the green curtain of the internet and social media.

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Just so you know, we are not being compensated in any way for endorsing this documentary. If you haven't watched "The Social Dilemma documentary on NetFlix" yet, it is a must-see program. The most common question I have been asked after seeing the program is; Isn't marketing the science of influencing consumer behavior? Hasn't marketing always influenced consumers? One side of this statement is true. Marketing's purpose is to educate consumers, to build consumer confidence, and to help influence buying habits as well. The primary purpose of marketing is to lead consumers into making buying decisions.  However, in the past 9-years, this has morphed into manipulating consumers into staying glued to their smartphones longer, which in turn forces them to view more ads. 

Before I delve deeper into the ethical implications of this subject, I want you to know that I am not a social media naysayer.  Far from it.  I have been a big proponent of social media since the early days of the online social networking revolution and currently make my living as the social media director of my company. I've been a proponent of social media as far back as AOL. I wrote my first article about modern-day social media back in 2011 published on Since then I have authored or co-authored 3 books on the subject and I have written more than 100 articles on social media. Many of these covered the ethical use of use social media as a marketing platform. I have also written more than another 150 articles related to the darker side of social networking, covering subjects such as; the lack of ethics, influence peddling, privacy, security, and the proliferation of fake news. A smattering of article I believe worth mention include;

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You can also find good information from Tristan Harris (one of the main speakers in the Netflix documentary) on YouTube. Here are a couple of video links;  ’The Social Dilemma’ Unveils Psychological Manipulation Used By Social Networks | TODAY and  'The Social Dilemma's' Tristan Harris on How to Make Social Media Less Addictive.

These articles are just a very small sample of my engagement in social media. My position as a social media director has put me right in the trenches posting both our and our client's social posts, as well as analyzing what the results are and what changes are taking place in social media on a daily basis. Let me tell you, its been one hell of a ride. And I am afraid we are just at the beginning of the journey and heading in the wrong direction. 

Social media has been a factor for good in many ways. It has helped connect people all over the world. It has helped immensely during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and other disasters around the world. Yet at the same time, it allowed social posts and ads to increase social strife some of which eventually led to killings in countries like Myanmar. Read: Forget Washington. Facebook’s Problems Abroad Are Far More Disturbing. In the U.S,. Facebook and Google, among other internet media companies, have been shown to engage in skewing search results for their favorite political party. Read "Can Internet Giants Google & Facebook, Steal the Election?". Also, Facebook and Twitter to some extent have been shown to interfere with how conservative ads and posts are censored, and for allowing foreign countries to try to influence our elections.  Their motive? Profit!  Still not convinced.  Read the "Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News",  "How conservatives learned to wield power inside Facebook" and "Thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russians to fool U.S. voters released by Congress".  Facebook was also hit with a 5 billion dollar fine for selling user data to its clients. You can read about here in the Washington Post article called -  "U.S. government issues stunning rebuke, historic $5 billion fine against Facebook for repeated privacy violations".

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The way I see it is this: If the only problem was that the giant internet media companies were just abusing how they were collecting data and running ads purely for profit, the fix would be easy. Add some FTC regulations and big fines, then enforce the fines when bad behavior takes place. But the real problem is much more insidious than just manipulation of how ads and user data are used. If you watch the NetFlix Documentary called "The Social Dilemma", you'll see realistic examples of how these companies are using algorithms to psychologically manipulate their users into "keeping their eyeballs glued to their network feeds". It wouldn't be so bad if they were always showing unbiased content all the time. Something that is extremely hard to do because a lot of fact-checking would be required. No, it's much more nefarious than that.  The social nets A.I. algorithms have been programmed to slowly but surely addict you to spending more and more time viewing it. In fact, many users show clear cut signs of addiction. Try to take a teenager's smartphone away for a few days and see what happens. This is increasingly true for many adults as well. 

What we see happening is that the internet generation is growing up with what amounts to a technology addiction. On top of that, many of the unsocial behaviors facilitated by smartphone technology has drastically increased the effects of cyberbullying, cyberstalking in the US, and cybercrime based on social psychology. In the Netflix documentary, they touched on the tremendous increase in self-inflicted harm from 2009 to 2017 committed by young girls between the ages of 10 to 14 (an increase of 151%) and teenage girls from 15 to 19 (up 70%). Haven't you been to a restaurant and seen people sitting across from each other glued to their smartphones?  I often see people walking down the streets with their faces looking down at their smartphones to the point that they often run into things. Auto accidents have greatly increased because of texting, but so is the ding of your smartphone to let you know that there is a social notification waiting for you, (which is another guaranteed distraction). To make matters worse is the explosion of fake news driving people crazy. Just do a search on Fake news and Pizza Gate!

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When commercials were first placed on radio and TV, there were few regulations. If you're watching TV or listening to radio today, there are many regulations prohibiting false advertising and the like. However, enforcement isn't strongly implemented. Media giants were able to circumvent these regulations by moving their ads to the internet! Today, fake news runs rampant on most networks. Social media, internet mail, and social video channels have few regulations and standards. The internet giants want us to believe they can police themselves. That's like asking the fox to guard the henhouse. We need our government representatives to understand how this technology is being used to undermine our liberties and influence our choices with data we did not ask for and which in many cases is not factual. We need regulations with teeth in them that can make sure the media giants keep our interests in mind. Right now we are their product, our eyeballs are a commodity that is routinely bought and sold like addicted slaves that are sold to the highest bidder. 

If you haven't seen the Netflix documentary called "The Social Dilemma", you need to! More importantly, you need to share it with your kids, your friends, and your neighbors. This is the best, most authoritative example of what these giant media companies are doing behind the green curtain. On top of that, I ask that you share this article and start a discussion group to talk about this subject. All too often people sweep this problem under the rug because they are addicted to using their smartphones and tablets. Our technology is not the real threat today. It's how it's being used by companies to circumvent personal freedoms to unduly influence on our decisions. Currently, our government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to regulating these giant companies. We need laws with real teeth to protect our privacy.  We don't always need options served up to us. We need to incorporate fact-checking to a much greater degree and we need to take responsibility for how we use technology ourselves. We need to reward companies by making them earn our trust, not simply assume they have our best interests at heart. We also need more user controls to turn off ads and notifications from internet applications. Our privacy is for sale right now and that leads to the manipulation of our behavior and loss of freedom.  This is especially true when talking about internet companies who say they are giving away their services.

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The bottom line is simple; The internet giants have amassed tremendous fortunes by providing us access to goods and services at the tips of our fingers that enhance our modern life. However, they have snuck in A.I. technology that attacks us where we are weakest, at a primal psychological level that allows them to push our emotional buttons to sway our opinions and influence our decisions. This type of A.I. technology we don't need! For most of mankind's existence, tools have always been something that we used to do work, make life easier, and increase our enjoyment. Today's social networks, email, and search directories are using A.I. tools that have turned this concept on its head. Modern A.I. enabled software has been programmed to use us instead of the other way around. We signup as subscribers and end up being turned into users for sale. In the Netflix documentary, one of the whistleblowers provides a quote that should stick in everyone's mind because this simple statement portrays what we have allowed to happen. There are only two endeavors that portray their clientele as "users", "the software industry, and drug dealers". Don't let these companies use A.I. technology to influence and manipulate your decisions. Let's take control of the situation by forcing our government to act to stop the internet giants from being technological drug dealers!

That's my opinion, I look forward to hearing yours.

This article provides an overview of the dangers inherent in social media and dispensed by giant internet companies. It tells how these companies have unduly influenced and manipulated consumers by using A.I.-enabled software to sway opinion and manipulate consumer decisions. It discusses elements from the Netflix documentary called "the Social Dilemma" and provides examples of the good, bad, and the really ugly things perpetrated by social media. It further provides links to other relevant articles that help the reader achieve a complete understanding of the depth of this subject.  Lastly, this article also offers a FREE ebook to help companies make ethical decisions with regard to their digital marketing. 

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Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also the co-host of the Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success” and the co-author along with his business partner Carl Weiss of their hit book also called “Working the Web to Win.” and the latest  edition, "Working the Web to Win Version 3.0"

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