The Social Dilemma … Is It Really A Dilemma? Is There Hope?

Social media is woven into the fabric of our society, whether we like it or not. The documentary-drama hybrid, ‘The Social Dilemma,’ on Netflix looks at social media’s impacts on the world today.  The summary for the show is as follows:

Dilemma is defined as,

“a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones.”
Source  – Bing Search

As I watched ‘The Social Dilemma,’ I wondered if a dilemma is the right word to use. Dilemma implies there is a choice. As each tech expert’s stories, which previously worked for social media giants unfolded, it appeared to me that we no longer have a choice when it comes to being a ‘slave’ to the algorithms of social media. Social media’s model is built on based on three pillars: engagement, growth, and advertising.

The analogy used was that of a magician.  Just like a magician uses our minds against us to perform illusions, social media algorithms can tap into those same parts to perform their ‘magic.’

There was also a reference to social media design being like a slot machine.  We become addicted to ‘spinning’ the social media’ slot machine’ to see if we will hit the ‘jackpot’ even though the result of the ‘spin’ is already predetermined. 

The documentary implied that the subliminal effect that social media has on us is massive. Another analogy used was a bicycle. A bicycle is a tool because it waits until we decide when we want to use it, but social media does not wait for us as it has goals of its own.

Even the tech experts interviewed know what is ‘behind the curtain’ and are still addicted to social media platforms themselves

Social media was likened to a drug that affects our dopamine levels.  The documentary examines the effects that social media is having on our youth.  Developing minds were not taken into consideration when social media was initially designed.  But now we see more and more adverse effects on self-image and self-worth. The documentary shared a timeline that illustrated the correlation between the advent of social media and increased self-harm and suicides (especially in pre-teen girls). 

The human mind is no match compared to the math and social media teams understanding of psychology. References were made to sci-fi movies like ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Matrix’ suggesting AI (Artificial Intelligence) already runs the world, has a mind of its ‘own,’ and is already in control of our minds. 

The Centre for Humane Technology points out that AI knows our weaknesses and can overpower human nature. In a reference to the movie  ‘The Truman Show,’ people are apt to accept the reality presented; like how magicians guide you to pick the card they want you to choose (even though you are lead to believe in picking any card, the reality is that the choice has already been made for you).  The documentary suggests that people are purposely fed different slants on information when access social media. 

The information feed each person is getting is tailored to create polarization.  Social media is more effective and efficient than the news creating divisiveness and appears to be widening the gap.  Designed to take people down ‘rabbit holes,’ social media’s algorithms have led to movements such as ‘The Earth Is Flat’ and ‘#pizzagate.’

In fact, the documentary offered that social media platforms, such as Twitter, spread ‘fake news’ six times faster than real news.  Myanmar’s example was given to show how Facebook can become an easy and cheaper tool for propaganda.  This mindset led to the persecution and death of Muslims in that country.  Facebook was put on every phone that was sold in that country, becoming the ‘defacto’ web and allowing the government to spread its propaganda with ease.  According to the documentary, social media is responsible for the global assault on democracy and is willing to sell our freedoms to the highest bidder.  


Originally based on a business model, social media has no laws regulating it and the wealthy that run them have little or no interest in changing the model. So, social media is now being used against us. The documentary used Russian interference as an example, noting nothing was ‘hacked,’ they just used the ‘tools’ available. Our futures are becoming available to the highest bidder, and a few of the tech experts could spell the end of civilization.


At the end of the documentary, the panel of experts suggested a few ways we can ‘combat’ the adverse effects of social media on society:

  • Turn Off Notifications
  • Delete Social Media Apps
  • Get over the impulse to check, scroll, and post
  • Make a plan with children (no phones until 16, no phones in the bedroom overnight)
  • Get outside and see the world for yourself

So what does all this mean in the world of education?  Will we stand by and say,’ that’s not our problem,’ ‘does not belong in the classroom,’ ‘ban technology from the classroom,’ or be part of the solution?  As the internet has evolved at a rapid pace, has education kept pace?  If the world of education sticks to the status quo, will that help or be detrimental to how social media affects our youth?  I feel that education must recognize that social media has a significant influence on society.  A concerted effort to inform, explore, and apply critical thinking strategies can help students understand and make positive decisions.  One important step would be for teachers to know how social media works themselves.  I think a mandatory class on social media in university education programs would be a good start. Should digital citizenship guidelines be infused into all classrooms (Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools) or left to chance that it will hopefully be ‘covered’ by a ‘tech’ related class?  Is an all-out ban the answer? For some, the answer is yes. But if education does not offer a plan, where and how will students learn about and how to effectively use social media.  The documentary pointed out mostly social media ‘pitfalls’, but did mention a few advantages. Getting an Uber ride wasn’t my first choice as an advantage, but I have seen youth do incredible things using the power of social media (take Greta Thunberg, for example).  For something to be a dilemma, there needs to be a choice; with the way social media and those who run them are designed, if we do not offer an option through education, there will be no dilemma.

What Other’s Are Saying About The Social Dilemma


The Social Dilemma Fails to Tackle the Real Issues in Tech

What Is The Social Dilemma: 6 Things To Know About The Netflix Documentary Before You Watch

The problem with The Social Dilemma

What They Are Saying About The Social Dilemma On Twitter

What ECI 833 People Are Saying About The Social Dilemma

Lisa Fraser

Quote – ‘this ad continually popped up. To me, that seemed like it was a huge invasion of privacy. It seemed to go beyond my phone. Almost like it was real and reaching out into my living room. Like a real life horror show’

My Reflection -Thanks for sharing your personal story.  Many times I think we think these things happen to other people not us, even though we know that the power of the algorithm exists.  I also appreciate your take on how gender roles are still exploited and defined and that this was a key message in the documentary. Thanks for a great read and share.

Jocelyn Wigmore

Quote – Fact checking and making sure our resources are coming from valuable sources seems to be a thing of the past. I know I have people I know and follow on social media that have fallen into this trap.

My Reflection – Great post.  I thought about Inside Out when watching those ‘algorithm’ guys manipulate Ben too.  I’m glad you saw that it was really one sided in the video and I guess that’s what they needed to do to drive their point, but I’m glad you brought up the debate from ECI 830 because there are more counter points than the documentary shared.  It really didn’t seem like a dilemma because there really wasn’t another choice.  Thanks for the share and I also appreciate you bringing your own experience into your post.

Meira McNevin

Quote – There were many negative tradeoffs to using social media mentioned in the documentary The Social Dilemma; tech addictions, body/self-image dysmorphia, and corporations selling us the product to the highest bidder. For me, the scariest part was the misinformation causing alarming polarization in our world.

My Reflection – Great Post.  There is a lot to unpack from this documentary for sure.  You hit on many of the same points I got as well.  The polarization is real.  Don’t get me wrong we have our share here in Canada, but when I look at what is happening in the States; this upcoming week will be a gong show for sure. Your title caught my attention as well.  When the algorithm guys were controlling Ben, he sure did look like a puppet getting his strings pulled.  It was like he had no choice at all.  Scary stuff but stuff we should be talking about together and in the classroom.  Thanks.

My Sketchnotes

7 thoughts on “The Social Dilemma … Is It Really A Dilemma? Is There Hope?

  1. Amazing Post Dean! I completely agree that this should be something that we invest in curriculum wise. A university class would also be great. I also agree that the movie was one sided on the disadvantages. I think of how some of our LGBTQ students have found support and friendships when perhaps in their town this was not the case. I’m excited to check out the Sask digital citizenship link (didn’t know that existed!).


  2. Great post Dean! Thanks for the thorough analysis of The Social Dilemma. It is an interesting watch to put social media into perspective – I kept checking my phone while watching and started to keep track of how many times I subliminally looked down at my phone rather than being engaged with the OTHER screen I should have been paying attention to!


  3. Thanks Dean for your take on this docudrama. I fully support your suggestion that our curriculum needs to evolve so that kids are set up with foundational lessons, but I think it is equally important for their parents, teachers and grandparents too (basically any social media users).


  4. Oh Dean, I always appreciate your thoughts and opinions on these topics. You add so much to class. Like you I agree we definitely need that mandatory university class to start. This is a topic that needs to be at the forefront for curriculum developers to have as mandatory in all curriculums so eventually digital media skills are engrained as much as good hygeine skills.


  5. Great post Dean. I really liked reading your opinion on this docu-drama.I loved that you questioned right away if dilemma is the right word to use, because like you said, it implies there is a choice. There isn’t. These tools were created with this in mind and using our psychology against us. Unfortunately, we need to deal with it and as educators, we are responsible for making sure our students are responsible too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  6. What a great post, Dean! You made some great points that I certainly agree with. It is evident that education has not kept up with the rapid pace of the internet and I believe you are correct when you say it is up to us to educate our youth in order to be part of the solution. I love the idea of having a mandatory class on social media in university. That would definitely equip educators with the tools and knowledge necessary for the classroom. Perhaps if digital citizenship guidelines were infused in the curriculum, the government may invest more in the budget for technology in our classrooms? Without adequate technology, many educators currently struggle to be able to teach these important pieces to our youth. I wish there was a magic wand to fix the digital divide!


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