Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

‘The Social Dilemma’ – a must watch documentary

Anne says: Nextflix released its latest documentary-drama a couple of weeks ago that reports on how social media is manipulating our behaviour. Sounds like a big claim? It’s not new – led by Tristan Harris, ex-Google Design Ethicist and one of the founders of the Center for Humane Technology, we’ve been writing about Tristan’s work since 2017 (herehere, and here). For me, this documentary was supported by a range of concerned individuals, who are not disgruntled employees whose views can be easily brushed aside, they are senior executive from popular social media companies that can no longer support the strategies being deployed to influence our behaviours.

Why is this important now? It’s always been important, however, as we hurtle towards a US Presidential election, where there are warnings from the FBI of meddling by foreign players, understanding how this is implemented and how we’re completely unaware of how it’s used to influence us – this is important! In an era of #fakenews, overwhelming amounts of misinformation, and COVID-conspiracy stories, wading our way through what’s real and what’s not is very important! Now it’s not just a matter of trying to determine the authenticity of content, it’s being aware that social media algorithms may be distorting our perceptions entirely.

One aspect of the documentary I found particularly valuable was the dramatisation of how this plays out in our daily lives. The story follows a family and their use of social media, including an imaginary panel of programmers who represent the algorithms that manipulate the family’s behaviours. However, like some of the reviewers, I came away disturbed yet dissatisfied. What are we going to do about this? There were no real answers, nothing particularly tangible that we could implement as most of the time we wouldn’t even be aware of the manipulation. Disconnect from all social media? Perhaps – but not likely. Try to verify the authenticity of content – sure, but who’s got time to fact-check everything?

The three reviews of the film I’m sharing today highlight some of the key elements, all of them picking up on the severity of the issues. Overall, they agree that the documentary left the issues unanswered. But that’s not a reason not to watch this – if you’re not familiar with Tristan Harris’ work, you must watch it. If you are, then watch it anyway, it further develops the argument, even if it doesn’t offer solutions.

Some pertinent comments from Wired:

Social media itself is not the existential threat. Rather, it’s the way that social media surfaces and amplifies the worst of humanity…What are we supposed to do about it? Responsibly, the producers ask that very question towards the end of the documentary. The technologists throw out a few ideas: Tweak the design. Change the business model. Make new regulations. Shut down the companies altogether. Mostly, though, they answer with blank stares.

The Guardian says:

The new Netflix docudrama is a valiant if flawed attempt to address our complacency about surveillance capitalism. Where the movie fails is in its inability to accurately explain the engine driving this industry that harnesses applied psychology to exploit human weaknesses and vulnerabilities. And the great mystery is why we continue to allow it to do so.”

The Wall Street Journal asks the question:

The most urgent question posed by “The Social Dilemma” is whether democracy can survive the social networks’ blurring of fact and fiction. “Imagine a world where no one believes what’s true,” Mr. Harris says. It’s possible, of course, that the film itself is a conspiracy cooked up by chronic malcontents, but it has the ringtone of truth.

If you’re not a Netflix subscriber, the articles will provide a good overview and you can explore the links to other works from Tristan Harris at the Center for Humane Technology. Even if there aren’t immediate answers, awareness and understanding of how algorithms are manipulating and shaping our perceptions and opinions can be an initial step in the right direction.


Mark in the Middle

Jakkii says: This week, I watched The Social Dilemma, which Anne writes about above. I have thoughts, but I’m keen to rewatch it and spend some more time thinking about it before sharing them so watch out for my post on that next week. Hopefully, too, that will give you a chance to have read Anne’s comments and the reviews Anne’s shared above, watch the documentary-drama yourself (if you have access to Netflix), and then formulate some of your own thinking about it before we dive in to round two of chatting about it.

Instead, and sort of relatedly, my piece this week is about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. It’s a long read, so this is a good one to set aside to read over your breakfast & a coffee on the weekend (or whenever & wherever you prefer to read!). It takes a look at some ‘leaked’ recordings and memos regarding, effectively, internal discussions and politics at Facebook vs the politics of the user base of Facebook and the world at large – and the struggle as CEO to walk the line between the two.

There’s so much going on in this article that I haven’t absorbed it all myself (see paragraph 1!), so I don’t want to say too much lest I misrepresent the piece. However, I think some of the tension the article seeks to explore is illustrated quite well early on:

“What we do is really try to not take a point of view,” the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, told interns during a Q&A on July 7th. “I have a very strong point of view on this president. It’s a personal point of view. It’s one I hold deeply. It’s not one that should enter into my judgments when I’m doing policy changes. … We have to be a neutral platform, and make those decisions coming from a place of rules and principles.”

But that same day, during an all-hands meeting on the release of a multiyear civil rights audit of Facebook, the company’s director of public policy for trust and safety, Neil Potts, told employees just the opposite.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily neutral,” Potts told employees, in response to a question about whether Facebook’s posture of neutrality was “incompatible” with “racial progress.”

Things only get more complex from there, too, particularly as the US gears up towards the Presidential election in November. Between balancing politics, being “neutral” (or not), and trying to manage issues on the platform like misinformation, active disinformation, propaganda, manipulated video & audio, conspiracy theories and – let’s just be honest – blatant lies, the task for Facebook isn’t an easy one in a role that’s immediately apparent and yet murky and unclear.

It’s well worth a read and there’s plenty of reflection to be done as well – particularly when combined with a viewing of The Social Dilemma and a read through the reviews Anne’s shared. As mentioned, I’ll be back with some more thoughts on social media in next week’s Friday Faves.


Around the house

Make sure you have the sound on with that one! One you can try at home, perhaps, but which will you be – the narrator or the chef?

Friday Funnies

You had one job from r/memes

Source unknown

Misinformation Friday Five

COVID-19 Friday Five

Work Friday Five

Tech Friday Five

Community Management

Trump vs TikTok, WeChat and China

And in Australia: TikTok hits back at ‘misinformation’ about its ties to China in submission to Senate inquiry

Social Media Friday Five

Bonus: Instagram at 10: how sharing photos has entertained us, upset us – and changed our sense of self

Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: in a special on social commerce in China, we talk to our guest Kishi Pan about the unique experience of Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book.

Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week

02:46 – How influencers and social commerce in China are different to the West

Other stories we bring up

Xiaohongshu, also known as RED (Chinese: 小红书; pinyin: xiǎohóngshū; lit.: ‘Little Red Book’)

What is Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) and why are global brands jumping on it?

Our previous discussion of influencers on Corona Business Insights

Our previous discussion of email on The Future This Week

Our previous discussion of live streaming sales on The Future This Week

Our previous discussion of the proposed TikTok and WeChat ban and the fragmented internet on The Future This Week

Chinese companies blur the line between content and commerce

Xiaohongshu is the world’s largest lifestyle platform

Chinese shopping-review app RED shows the future of online shopping experience

Tencent and Alibaba-backed Little Red Book seeks US$6 billion valuation

Louis Vuitton trials livestreaming with China’s Xiaohongshu

Xiaohongshu bids to reinvent itself

KOL (influencer) marketing

Our previous discussion of TikTok with Barney Tan on The Future This Week

Xiaohongshu helps the Chinese beauty industry

How brands can leverage Xiaohongshu


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