Are You In Control

by Danna Beltran

Big tech companies working hard to keep you hooked.

AstroscreenPhoto: Artwork by Bakal

The Social Dilemma created by filmmaker Jeff Orlowski is a new documentary, coming to Netflix on September 9th, that discusses three dangerous things big tech companies are doing: one, spying on you; two manipulating your feeds to keep you engaged and three deepening your bias and blind spots, by pushing away everything else. This documentary may finally convince you that we are being watched, manipulated and misled by exploitative platforms and attention-grabbing algorithms.


When being asked if we are really being watched, Jeff Orlowski stated that, “Everything that we do is being tracked and logged in crazy ways that I think we only skim the surface of in the film.” Putting everything we have ever done into perspective, raises the question: Did I choose to do this or was it advertised enough to influence me to do it? This is where the phrase surveillance capitalism comes into play, which refers to an economic system centred around the exploitation of personal data, with the core purpose of profit-making. Companies are constantly in a race to be the ones to build the most accurate profile that can predict us better. The goal of companies is to build a more and more accurate model that can be used to manipulate us.

 There’s also the big factor of our undeniable obsession with our devices. They constantly interrupt us, obstructing our ability to think deeply and critically, without being tempted to distraction by our devices. When asked about the documentary’s theme and whether it was about another force that’s impacting us as natural beings. Orlowski revealed, “I look at this as just another existential threat, right? We are actively building systems that are causing polarization, that are causing echo chambers, that are dividing our country and our way of thinking.” It's a terrifying thought, having an invisible machine that controls what people see and gives us what it thinks we want, further dividing us. 

The problem with this whole system is that it is user-generated content where whatever sticks will rise to the top, causing the things that don't necessarily deserve attention to get attention. Even if you want to leave the social media world, there’s always that fear of missing out on things, because like it or not these platforms offer people the ability to connect to friends and family. There are positives to social media, people are able to speak out in real time in ways they couldn’t before. We see videos of police violence, and acknowledgements of incidents of sexual and mental abuse committed by people in power, that wouldn’t be shared as widely without social media. However Orlowski reveals, “It’s a matter of keeping in mind that there is somebody on the other side of that political ideology that disagrees and is not seeing your side of the conversation and is probably being reinforced with their own thinking and their own views.” This divisive idea could undermine the successes and unity the country could potentially feel. 

So let me leave you with this question: How much do you think this algorithm has deepened your bias?