Review: The Social Dilemma

Score: B-

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Cast: Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward, Barbara Gehring

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

“We created a system that biases for false information…the truth is boring.”

In a world consumed by electronics and unapologetically addicted to social media, many have scrutinized tech founders over the last several years concerning their role in a turbulent online environment. They’ve spent time and money defending their actions and lack of moral accountability concerning their ability to control content and feed the proverbial machine of “fake news.”

Jeff Orlowski’s The Social Dilemma counters their need for exoneration by glaring hard into their soul, digging deep to provide a more sound understanding of their business model while shining a light on their primary objective.

Orlowski uses a hybrid model of storytelling, featuring documentary-style interviews backed by a paint-by-numbers dramatization. The approach allows, at least to some degree, the film to reach a broader audience as many will likely find it challenging to sit ideally and listen to scientific interviews in mass. The approach is an interesting one, especially considering the subject matter. It would have worked beautifully had it not played out like a low budget educational video that was too often the centerpiece of high school sexual education.

Working past the disappointing narrative, The Social Dilemma excels in its traditional documentary form thanks to its candid interviews with some of the most respected and accomplished creators, engineers, and monetization experts in Silicon Valley. From the data collecting to the exceedingly complex algorithms, their perspective helps create a more concise picture as we work to better understand the drama surrounding the addictive usage of social media and its effects on the way we self educate, behave, and ultimately vote.

Though the film doesn’t spend much time discussing the 2016 Presidential Election, Orlowski would be doing a tremendous disservice if he skipped past the event entirely as it proved pivotal in bringing about such discussions as the one the film is engaging. But instead of dialing in on the events leading up to Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, we are offered a much broader perspective as the film utilizes the situation in the United States to showcase an expanded viewpoint on a more global scale.

The information is equally fascinating and horrifying, especially considering most of it is coming from some of the platforms’ most advanced minds. But unlike similar documentaries, The Social Dilemma never works to outsmart you or belittle your understanding. Rather than lecture, the film attempts to educate, trying, for the most part, to remain politically neutral as it works to broaden your awareness of the things that are likely occurring without your knowledge or intent.

The film’s third act, which hits hard regarding information and, dare I say, scare tactics, loses some of its effect due to the background narrative. Though the visuals may add a level of interest, their lack of authenticity prevents the film from connecting in the way it should. Thankfully the message is strong enough on its own, sounding the painfully silent alarm about the intrusive nature that technology possesses and the manipulative control that it beholds on us all, even those who are aware of its ideal endgame.

*This film is streaming globally on Netflix.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.