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Week 8: The Social (and Morale) Dilemma

As web and social media use grows exponentially, it’s important to take time to step back and reflect on how it affects our society. This week, we had the option to watch and discuss the recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and comment on how Web 2.0 (the social web,) has influenced our lives, and what affects it may have on schools and society.

Read more: Week 8: The Social (and Morale) Dilemma

Before diving into specific aspects of the film, I found it important to differentiate between Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. One of our resources this week was a video by Ken Yarmosh. As Ken explains, Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 aren’t literally different versions of the internet, but more a description of how the web was used during different time periods.

Ken has great production value, particularly for an account with under 500 subscribers. I encourage you to go explore his videos further, as he discusses various topics around remote work, applications, and the future of technology.

The Social Dilemma, released in 2020, comments on this shift between versions of the web, particularly the gathering and selling of data from social media apps that became commonplace during Web 2.0. While social media and Web 2.0 has certainly affected our lives in positive ways (remaining connencted, sharing with others, instant access to information and news,) the film also portrays multiple negative aspects. Some of the major elements discussed in the film included the harvesting of data, online advertising (and the greed that surrounds it,) and the dangers of having newsfeeds tailored to only your interests.

The Dilemma: Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.

The Dilemma, as stated on the film’s official website.

My girlfriend and I were particularly perturbed by the psychological descriptions. The film describes how social media apps are designed give us ‘positive intermittent reinforcement,’ that keeps us coming back. While this might seem obvious, understanding that algorithms change based on how they’ve best learned to keep human attention is a bit disturbing. Additionally, that fact technology and social media are often specifically designed to be as persuasive as possible, often with the goal of changing our wants or behaviour is something I hadn’t considered this deeply. If the positive reinforcement can (consciously or unconsciously,) persuade me to continue opening the app, the same principal can apply when it comes to advertisements. We had an interesting discussion about how tailored our ‘suggested ads’ have become, and how it’s almost impossible to forget about something that you’ve recently searched or considered buying. I guarantee these types of advertising tactics have led to me purchasing things I wouldn’t have otherwise. Clearly it works. But is it morale? Or ethical? That conversation seems to just be beginning.

Photo by Manuel Geissinger on

The other major theme that was concerning in the film, surrounded the control of information and news. As young adults turn to online platforms as their primary source of news, we must be cognizant of the potential effects. Online platforms are notoriously difficult to regulate, Fake News is a growing issue, and everyone, regardless of credential, can have a platform to share their version of ‘news’ with the world. We have to encourage those around us to be aware of the dangers of trapping ourselves in our own echo chambers, only hearing the news we want to hear.

I wanted to look for some data around what sources my students may be getting their news from. I came across a study titled Teens and the News: The Influencers, Celebrities, and Platforms They Say Matter Most (2020.)

I find it interesting to note how severe some of the levels changed in only three years. Of important note, we can also reasonably expect that the numbers will have continued to trend in the same direction in the last two years since this data was compiled. With students finding more and more of their news through online personalities and/or social media, I think teachers have to remain ever vigilant around teaching Digital Literacy and critical thinking skills.

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Being able to decipher quality and poor sources, fact check information, and interact responsibly online are skills that are going to be absolutely necessary in our student’s lives. Social media and technology aren’t going anywhere, but questions should continue to be asked about these company’s values, transparency, and motives.


2 thoughts on “Week 8: The Social (and Morale) Dilemma

  1. Thank you, Colton. You raise some interesting observations about what users experience in the online world. It is a bit concerning that so many people are using social media as their main source of information, as there is probably very little understanding around the fact that this news is put through a meatgrinder and we never know what part came from where. As much as I want to be right in my own opinions, it is clear that we need to provide our students a much more varied diet of opposing views to assist them in understanding the complexity of an issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Colton! When I initially watched the Social Dilemma for the first time, I was also very perturbed in regards to how the algorithm works and how it curates information content based upon our recent activity. Once I heard this I immediately thought that these big companies are really after our attention as a product!

    Liked by 1 person

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