Our Social Dilemma

By David Macnamara on Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Last week, I watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. As far as a Netflix show went, it was a good way to spend 90 minutes. If you are a social media manager, as I am, and watched it with a friend or partner, it was probably a useful tool to help explain to them what you do.

In the last few days since watching, I have frequently found myself thinking about the core message of the film, namely the damage social media has caused society and how it exploits its users through data mining, psychological manipulation and surveillance capitalism to line the pockets and bloat the bank accounts of a small collection of Silicon Valley billionaires. It has given me much food for thought.

Here at Teamspirit, our core message is to transform the world of finance for the better. But how can you transform something for the better, when social tools can be agents of positive – or less positive – change depending in who’s hands they are in? It’s a conundrum that is difficult to solve through reason, and I had a huge degree of empathy for those who took part in the film when they were asked to identify the one thing about social media that they felt was broken. Their silence was deafening.

In my opinion, the conflict of the issue takes two forms. Firstly, social media is so interwoven into all of our lives that if we as a company elected to only advertise on ethical platforms, we would quickly find ourselves without any clients, while no one looked at the content we published on DuckDuckGo or Ello (if anyone remembers that?!). Secondly, if you were going to delve into the unethical practices of social media, you are also going to be in for a treat when you read up on some of the unsavoury points of view some of the country’s biggest newspapers publish. Like every commercial interest, there will always be an element of holding your nose when you use a service to amplify your message.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of the platforms we use, and the engagement practises they employ. In fact, when we work with a client, we should be mentioning issues that we feel they should be aware of before we begin a project. Are they aware that there are currently over 1,000 companies actively boycotting Facebook until they can guarantee better policing of hateful content on their platform? Do they know that two months ago, the Jewish Leadership Council endorsed a 48-hour boycott in response to Twitter’s repeated failure to tackle antisemitism?

At the end of the day, our responsibility is to our clients and meeting their needs. However, we do still have a responsibility to the principles of our company to make them aware of these issues. This isn’t a case of the turkeys voting for Christmas, but if we are determined to change things for the better, it’s important that we recognise our own place within this great dilemma.