I watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix last night. I kept hearing that it was “something I had to see”. Since I am currently teaching a course entitled “Making peace with screens and gaming” I figured that it wasn’t a bad idea.
It was an interesting documentary, especially as it featured interviews with people involved in designing and running the big social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. It was no surprise to learn that the algorithms that these companies use are designed to maximise the the amount of time we spend using social media so that we see more ads and they make more money.
The documentary went a lot further than simply pointing out the obvious profit motive behind social media and its these other aspects that have generated such a reaction among parents and young people.
The Social Dilemma asserts that social media technology (FB, Insta, Twitter, Snapchat etc) is controlling us. It’s addictive and manipulative and it’s overpowering us. It was compared to an addictive drug that exploits human vulnerability and is destroying the lives of young people and adults and particularly children.
“Social media is killing people.” Is that really true?
Apparently, social media is also destroying democracy and could end up destroying civilisation as we know it.
I understand why people are scared by this. I think the makers of this documentary pulled all the strings to make people feel scared. It seems to have worked.
I thought their treatment of the topic was unbalanced and highly manipulative.
I agree that this technology has the potential to cause harm and has the potential to be addictive. So do a lot of things: food, shopping, sex, alcohol, prescription and non-prescription drugs and cigarettes to name a few.
Our much-used reaction to things that have the potential to cause harm, particularly to our children, is to clamp down, ban, impose rules, limits and if necessary, punishments.
This was the model they suggested in The Social Dilemma; Don’t let your children use it and consider not using it yourself. If your children do use social media you should limit the time they spend on it.
I don’t think this pattern of parental control has worked very well in the past and I don’t think it’s going to work well now with social media.
Is parental control really the answer?
Banning and controlling something that children and young people are really excited about using can cause more harm than it prevents. Not in every case, of course, but in many families this conventional approach leads to increased conflict and a breakdown in connection between parents and children.
Our fears and judgements can close down open communication and send children the message that there’s something wrong with them or that they’ve got a serious problem because they love social media.
Like so many things that are considered “bad for you” it’s use can get pushed underground. To be hidden from parents and used in secret.
Then, when children or young people face difficulties in their technology use, where can they turn for help? To parents who may judge them for breaking the rules? Or to their friends who may be equally out of their depth?
Having watched this documentary I’m not more scared. I don’t have a negative judgement about social media. I’m not afraid that I or my children will get overwhelmed by it or that it will destroy “civilisation”.
It seems to me that the more we believe that social media technology is trying to control us, the more vulnerable we become.
Be an ally, not an adversary.
I aim to be an ally to my children as they navigate and explore the world. I want to continue to offer a non-judgemental ear if they want to talk about any problems they have with social media or anything else. I know that won’t guarantee their safety. Nothing will guarantee their safety, but if my children view me as an ally rather than an adversary I’m in a position to offer them information and support when they want it.
I’ve been open to seeing my children’s perspective on social media, gaming and YouTube.
I prefer to be curious rather than coercive.
I’ve been amazed at their discoveries, the skills they’ve learned and the social networks they’ve become a part of.
I don’t mind at all if governments decide to regulate the social media companies and bring in ethical standards.
In my home, I’m open to discussing ethics, the way business operates, the effect of screen time and the potential dangers of social media but there has never been an adequate reason for me to impose limits or ban any technology use.