Yes, You Are Being Exploited — Review on the Social Media Dilemma

Sylvia X
4 min readOct 6, 2020
From The Social Dilemma Documentary

We cannot say social media has only created damages to human society. There are beautiful things about social media, how it connects people virtually and creates a sense of belongings even to the most unconventional interest groups, connecting one corner to the other corner of the world. However, it is time to think seriously about the downsides, that grow more and more prominently over the past 20 years.

The Polarization

As increasing time user spent on these platforms is the main goal from social media, similar contents, the contents that the user would enjoy the most are more frequently exposed to the user. The algorithm learns by users’ behavior and is trained to be more and more precise and good at recommending the contents the user would like, so that the user would spend longer time on that platform. As a user, you are fed with increasingly similar opinions and the ideas that you tend and would like to believe. The conspiracy group members are recommended with other conspiracy topics. Extreme ideas become far easier to spread compared to 10 years ago.

In my daily life, when I look at the daily news from Google and recommended Youtube videos are all based on my recent search and even chats with my friends. I’m fed with new videos from Trevor Noah and The Daily Night Show and articles about the best quick lunch recipes. My world is narrowed down. These “personal tailored” recommendations make it harder for us to understand each other, as human beings — we are blindsided in our own little worlds and everyone believes their own versions of truth.

The Mental Health Issue

The popularity, the likes and number of followers, is vanity and short-term. When anxious or bored, people open social media, get some short-term satisfaction of the popularity, and keep scrolling on the recommendations from these platforms, usually ending up with more emptiness. These platforms make human beings less capable of dealing with their anxiety and loneliness, which are the sentiments inevitable in life. It also grows harder for people to build connections with the real world and the moment; your daily life tasks are sliced and distracted by the comments, likes, and posts from others.

The Nature of Exploitation

The documentary elaborates from different angles about the nature of exploitation on users of these platforms. One example from Tristan Harris telling the difference between technology and a neutral tool: a neutral tool such as bicycle would not be as demanding as platforms like these; neutral tools wait there for you to use it when you need it, while social media demands your attention and changes your behaviors.

A popular saying that if a product is free, then the users are the product, can well represent these platforms. In the end, the users are the ones that are exploited, and their attention and data are the fuel for these companies to generate revenue from their clients, the advertisers.

The Root Cause — The Business Model/Capitalism

The documentary starts with the question, “So what’s wrong?” and the interviewees were unable to answer straight, saying “it’s complicated”. As the movie evolves, here we come the root reason, capitalism. Of course.

These platforms are just another corporation driven by revenue, like all others. The nature of exploitation comes from the nature of capitalism. When we know that mining is bad for the environment, why we still do it? Because there is interest. Us, users of these platform, are the ones that are now exploited. However, there is very little interest standing behind the mass audience. Therefore, the power and the interests grow exponentially behind these corporations, without much protection against the users.


The documentary ends with optimism. Interestingly, many interviewees are the ones who participated in creating these platforms and felt the increasing responsibility to go against them because of the ethical concerns.

The genie is out of the bottle. But with better regulations, for instance, tax on data collection and providing better control to users of their own data; the future can be bright. I remember I listened to one episode of A16 podcast and I quite like the idea that a platform should pay users by their attention, by how much time a user spends using that platform.


I believe there must be a decent number of viewers delete their social media accounts after watching it. I must admit, I enjoy using social media, posting pictures I like and sharing opinions with people. But I want to be more conscious of my time spending on scrolling and wandering among these platform and be more aware of the importance of focusing on my current tasks, away from distraction. I need to turn the technology into a more neutral tool, instead of being manipulated by it.

I disabled all my app notifications but kept the ones of messages and silenced all the message notifications. I try to check the messages only in specific times of a day. After reviewing all the kinds of messages I receive every day, I realize, nothing really requires my immediate attention from what I’m doing.