Before you canceled your subscription to Netflix in response to the very disturbing movie “Cuties,” perhaps you noticed a documentary called, “The Social Dilemma” trending in your feed. The movie bills itself as a documentary exposing the toxic effects of social media on society including increased depression, suicide, and political polarization.
The creators’ website calls the public to action on four topics, increasing individual privacy, teen mental health, election integrity, and a yet-unspecified initiative to “radically reimagine the infrastructure” of the tech platforms.
In actuality, the film appears to be the product of political advocacy groups looking to consolidate their advantage in the tech industry.
I immediately found myself skeptical that Netflix might sponsor a “documentary” challenging the power of the tech industry. Netflix, which itself is quite woke and meddlesome in American politics and culture, is not easily distinguishable from the targets of the documentary. With a background in economics, I recognized the film for what it was: An infomercial promoting government intervention into the industry, but pre-approved and vetted regulation that they favor.
The tech giants welcome government regulation as a way of protecting market share and ratifying their oppressive censorship. The Left always capitalizes on the problems they create. The film appears tailor-made to exploit the opportunity presented by the chaos the maladministration of their powerful platforms has caused.
The documentary does have flashes of insight, and that’s part of the allure. It demonstrates how algorithms guide content toward consumers of social media to reinforce existing biases. As it reinforces political orientations, it slowly radicalizes consumers as it gradually exposes the viewer to incrementally more radical memes and articles.
Unfortunately, while the documentary acknowledges this phenomenon, it laughably suggests that this radicalization only takes place on the Right. It cites the anti-vaccine movement, flat-earthers, and the bizarre 2016 Comet Ping Pong incident in which internet rumors prompted a man to stage an assault on a pizza parlor said to be a front for child trafficking. From deep within the funhouse mirror walls of the leftist social media bubble, conservative politics appear as an illegitimate collage of cartoonish kooks. They are, of course, blind to their own radicalization.
The film makes little or no mention of the violence happening everywhere around us and arising from the Left. In spite of the fact that 95 percent of this summer’s riots were connected to Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests, the film is completely silent on leftist movements plaguing our cities with violence, abetted by social media.
The film’s website helpfully includes a FAQ question section asking why the film doesn’t address the role of social media and the BLM movement. It responded, “There are countless positive things that have come from social media, and many more positive things will continue to come from it. But our point in the film is less about any one issue or campaign, but about the system as a whole.”
Neither does the film discuss the misreporting of sensitive police-involved shootings that have sparked riot after riot. The film bemoans the phenomenon of “fake news,” but again portrays it as a problem of misinformation that corrupted the Right. The filmmakers aren’t very subtle in suggesting the Right’s news sources seem in dire need of curating and filtering by “responsible” leftists . . . er, “journalists.” Indeed, the film is just a movie version of the same agenda-driven news filtering that it condemns.
But again, why would the tech industry want regulation? Ask America Online, Blockbuster Video, and Kodak. All three once had dominant monopoly positions that evaporated after market conditions disrupted their power.
In the book, The Political Spectrum, Thomas W. Hazlett describes in detail how the incumbent broadcast industry lobbyists corrupted FCC regulators into using the power of the government to block innovation that would have provided better choices to consumers. The phenomenon, known as “regulatory capture,” holds that a regulated industry will always subvert their regulators to protect market share and strangle competition. That’s exactly why the cell phone and cable TV technologies took so long to reach the general public.
Google, the king of our authoritarian tech masters, knows this. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said this out loud in a 2010 interview with The Atlantic, “The average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists” to protect incumbent interests, “It’s shocking how the system actually works . . . Washington is an incumbent protection machine,” while he referred to incumbent lawmakers, this goes hand-in-hand with protecting the fat campaign donations from incumbent monopolies.
A production studio called “Exposure Labs,” produced “The Social Dilemma.” The top two executives, director Jeff Orlowski and producer Larissa Rhodes, are also the top executives in a public advocacy group called Unstoppable. This organization identifies its financial supporters, the Kendeda Fund, Far Star, the JPB Foundation, and the Wild Foundation, all of which are left-leaning advocacy groups with shadowy funding. Tech media already fully support left-leaning causes, so why would these four groups be affiliated with an effort to “expose” the crisis in social media and big tech? One can be assured they’re not championing free speech for their political opponents.
“The Social Dilemma” is not a courageous challenge to Big Tech power. It’s an infomercial pushing for government protection for existing monopolies. Facebook doesn’t want to be AOL. It wants to be the telephone company protected by a ring of captured regulators who fend-off competitors.
Ironically, Big Tech’s invitation for regulation may not pan out the way they hoped. Currently, they enjoy a kind of control over the media that the Chinese Communist Party probably envies. Google and Facebook basically possess a duopoly over ad revenue granting them immense power over the relatively puny news outlets that depend on that money. It’s well-known that all the tech platforms suppress dissenting speech.
Yet a regulated communication medium could invite viewpoint discrimination lawsuits as conservatives make First Amendment challenges against regulators acting as true government actors. If Big Tech wants telephone company-style protection, it may come at the cost of its ability legally to discriminate against viewpoints as it does now. If there is to be regulation, Americans must demand an end to tech platforms interfering in the marketplace of ideas.