NetGuide: Your Privacy Resource Guide.
The Social Dilemma, by director Jeff Orlowski
The Social Dilemma is a Netflix drama-documentary that explores the downsides of today’s social media and of our growing addiction to it. Directed by Jeff Orlowski and written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis, the film was awarded two Emmys: one for its picture editing, and another one for outstanding writing.
The movie touches upon issues of digital privacy as it explains how social media algorithms collect and process user data to predict user behaviour and keep users online for as long as possible. Other related issues are also explored – such as the mental health impacts of social media use, the spread of disinformation and political radicalisation.
To address these points, The Social Dilemma gathers a group of tech experts, many of whom invented social media features that turned out to have alarming consequences on users and society. Alongside interviews with these experts, the film also contains a fictitious narrative. It depicts the trajectory of Ben, a teenage boy who falls prey to social media addiction. The character ends up disconnected from his offline relationships and radicalised by the political content he is constantly exposed to online.
Despite the film’s success, The Social Dilemma has also received a considerable amount of criticism. Critics have argued that the documentary makes exaggerated claims about the extent to which social media algorithms can influence users, and that it fails to address the societal causes to the problems it highlights. This piece, written by Adi Robertson, touches upon a few of the main points critics of The Social Dilemma have questioned.
Overall, The Social Dilemma is a good documentary for those who are only beginning to learn about online privacy (and related issues). If you decide to watch it, just take the movie with a grain of salt and check out other sources from this guide as well!
The Great Hack, by directos Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim
The Great Hack is a Netflix documentary directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim that addresses the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. It was released in 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival.
If you’re not familiar with the case, here’s a little spoiler: Cambridge Analytica is a now extinct British political consulting / big data company. During the 2016 US elections, the company collected personal information of around 87 million Facebook users with the objective of converting prospective Republican voters into actual voters. Users affected had willingly given away their information by filling out a Facebook quiz, but were largely unaware of the uses of this data. Surprise, surprise: Cambridge Analytica ended up using it to target users with social media ads encouraging them to vote for Donald Trump in that year’s presidential elections.
The Great Hack follows the trajectory of David Carroll, professor of media design at the New School, as he legally demands full disclosure of the data held about him by Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, the SCL Group, in the UK High Court. The film raises questions in relation to the role and accountability of technology use in political processes. In this respect, Facebook (now Meta) has been extensively criticised for allowing third-parties to access such substantial user data as well as for its lack of transparency in relation to the data collected.
This is a film that clearly connected issues of online privacy to digital democracy. It shows how much power comes with the intimate knowledge about others that is made possible by large-scale data collection. The Great Hack surely is a frightening watch, but it’s a must for those who may still feel somewhat apathetic to the offline world effects of technology misuse.
Coded Bias, by director Shalini Kantayya
Coded Bias is a film directed by Shalini Kantayya and premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It essentially explores the ways in which the algorithms that govern our lives are biassed against darker-skinned people.
Coded Bias focuses on MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini’s journey once she discovers that facial recognition didn’t recognise her face properly, but did work after she wore a white mask. It dives into how artificial intelligence are biassed against racial and gender minorities in ways that may affect life areas such as housing, career opportunities, healthcare, education, and others. The film also shows us Buolamwini’s battle to push for the first-ever legislation in the U. S. against such algorithmic biases.
The film highlights the lack of transparency in relation to how AI works and the lack of citizen awareness regarding personal data collection and applicability – without these two pillars, it becomes incredibly difficult to demand for fairness in technology. In other words, Coded Bias shows viewers how a lack of institutional attention to issues of digital privacy and accountability hinder democracy by widening pre-existing inequalities in society.
Author: Ana Luiza Loio Becil
Image: GR Stocks via Unsplash