Net Persuasion

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 documentary available on Netflix <trailer on YouTube>
[Also see my commentary entry on this topic]

This class will consist of a viewing of the film and a discussion of the concepts raised in the film.

The film consists of concerns and observations raised by many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and technologists who helped develop Facebook, Google, Instagram and other social media, advertising funded Internet services. An independent web site exists that includes extracts or video clips not included in the main documentary including:

The film also dramatizes a set of related scenarios that anthropomorphize the role of artificial intelligence which I found quite useful.

Facebook has issued a disingenuous PDF statement on "What the Social Dilemma Gets Wrong". It's key points:

  1. Facebook builds products to create value, not to be addictive <Jim's observation: addiction is just a side effect/benefit>

  2. You are not the product, Facebook is funded by advertising so that it remains free for people
    <Jim: aka the persons to whom access is being sold, aka products>

  3. Algorithms, Facebook's algorithm is not 'mad'. It keeps the platform relevant and useful
    <Jim: I'm not sure why Facebook views the "AI" in the documentary as "mad", it seems hyper rationale.>

  4. Data: Facebook has made improvements across the company to protect persons privacy
    <Jim: I totally believe this, the massive profiles that Facebook holds on most if not all Internet users are it's crown jewels; the implied disclosures to Facebook do not appear in the documentary>

  5. Polarization, we take steps to reduce content that could drive polarization
    <Jim: According to The Atlantic, Facebook has a "break glass" algorithm they put in place temporarily after Nov 3rd and Jan 6th; which implies they can track the "heat" level of public discourse and take action when they like, to turn it down.>

  6. Elections: Facebook has made investments to protect the integrity of elections
    <Jim: this is likely true, although they did provide expertise to some candidates doing significant advertising, and some amount of advertising is targeted at discouraging individuals who might vote the other-way from voting. An internal Facebook memo indicates Facebook significantly influenced the 2016 election and should not do so in 2020.>

  7. Misinformation, We fight fake news, misinformation and harmful content using a global network of fact-checking partners.
    <Jim: true - but this does not prevent a lie from "traveling half way around the world while the truth is still putting on it's running shoes.">

All of which are interesting points, but it also should be noted that Mark Zuckerberg indicated that he had not viewed the documentary at the March 2021 congressional hearing on "Disinformation Nation: Social Media's Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation" (4 hours)

A batch of related links, resources, etc can be found on my Social Media and AI page.