By Anonymous High School Student

The Social Dilemma, a 2020 Netflix Documentary, features several technology experts from a variety of social media platforms who warn the public of the dangers of social media. These experts express their discomfort with the way their social tools are now being used. Justin Rosenstein, co-inventor of the Facebook like button, insists the tool was originally developed to “spread love and positivity,” but has now become anxiety provoking for many teens and adults. The film discusses the many negative effects of social media, including mental health issues, addiction, and the spread of illogical conspiracy theories through the younger generation.

In the film, a mother asks her son to give up his phone for only 24 hours, as I’m sure many parents have asked their children to do. She tells her son that if he can stay off of his phone, she will cover the cost to fix his broken screen. The scene then switches to a control room, supposedly in charge of the son’s social media usage. The workers in the control room brainstorm ways to get the son back on his phone, and eventually decide to send him a notification that his ex-girlfriend posted with a new guy. The son receives this notification and gets back on his phone, proving the power social media has over many teens.

Potentially the most terrifying part of the film, the social media experts warn, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” Every time you get on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or any other free social media platform, you have to realize that the company has to make money somehow. If you’re not paying to use it, how are they getting money? In short, the social media app is selling YOU to other companies, your personal information, your likes and dislikes, etc. Everyone has had a time when they opened a social media app, only to find an ad for something they had never communicated about on their device. Whether you talked to someone about it or only thought about it, it’s terrifying to see an ad for something that there’s no way for the app to have known about.

Conversation Starter Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think you could stay off your phone for 24 hours? What notification would compel you to get back on your phone?
  2. What can you do to help prevent an addiction to social media?
  3. Why do you use social media? Is that the only way for you to achieve those things?
  4. If you could only keep one social media app, which app would it be and why?
  5. After watching the film, do you plan to change any of your privacy settings on social media? Which ones, and why or why not?
  6. Have you ever seen an ad for something you had only talked or thought about? How did it make you feel?
  7. What is one part of the film that really resonates with you? Connect it to a personal experience.
  8. Do you fact check everything you see online? What is one time you have read only the title or beginning of an article, but shared it anyway?
  9. What sources do you trust for news? Why do you trust these sources and do you ever get information from elsewhere?
  10. Can you think of a time where you said or did something online that you probably wouldn’t do in person?
  11. Think of a time where you have seen hate comments on a celebrity’s social media post. How does being behind a screen change how a person sees people on the other side?

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