Netflix latest documentary, The Social Dilemma is a series of interviews with the developers, former CEOs and engineers behind the top social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Peppered with additional insights from behavioral scientists and Ivy League professors, the movie takes a look at how the platforms have influenced the way we engage with each other in modern society.

Social Media Marketers’ Response

To anyone with a background in social media management or marketing, such as myself, the information they provide about how the algorithms work is no surprise. In fact, I believe they do an excellent job of illustrating how our engagement with a single post sets off a chain reaction that further determines the posts we see next – along with the ads. The interviews also provide interesting background into the original intentions behind certain features, like the Facebook Like button, and how evolved into the profit-making platforms it is now.

Everyone Else’s Response

To those not in the marketing field, I realize this depiction of the algorithm, illustrated by a series of three men picking & choosing specific content to show a user based on his or her engagement (or lack of engagement) with posts already in the feed, can be a scary wake-up call. It may even make you feel like you’ve fallen into George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society.

Don’t Boycott, Be Aware

However, rather than swearing off all social media in reaction to the movie, I challenge you to see this as a call to awareness about how social media affects you, your family and your interpersonal relationships in general.

There is a great power of good that can come from social media, but we have to use it properly.

Issue: Do you find yourself adversely affected by the number of Likes or comments on a post you share?
Solution: Practice reframing your thinking of social media’s purpose: connecting and sharing with others, not being “the most popular.”

(Notice the word “practice” in that last sentence. It doesn’t happen overnight but we can change the way we think over time.)

Issue: Do you find yourself constantly on your phone scrolling through feed?
Solution: Put it down and walk away. Go outside and leave the phone inside. Call someone to talk about anything else. Take action towards a more balanced mindset.

Personal Tip:  I’ve found turning off all notifications on my lock screen and switching my phone to Airplane Mode is wonderful for removing the FOMO (fear of missing out) factor. It helps me be more mindful and present in the moment.

Social media has become even more popular during the pandemic when we are physically disconnected with one another but can start to affect us just like a drug. The Social Dilemma drives that home with its studies of how the platform developers have shaped the way we engage with each other as a byproduct of how we engage with the apps they created.

It isn’t all bad though. We also stay in touch with high school and college friends we may not live near anymore. We see them get married and have babies (fur or human.) We see them become doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs. We support the causes that matter most to them and learn more about their values in the process. We learn from one another and we teach one another.

It’s can also be a game-changer for someone’s business, including my own, and there is zero shame in harnessing the reach it provides.

There is a great power of good that can come from social media, but we have to use it properly.

Call to Action

If we model the right behavior, the next generation will internalize that and adopt it as well.

We cannot change society as the whole without first changing our own individual behavior, which trickles down to what we are not only telling our children but showing them with our actions. They see what we do and how we respond to the world around us. Show them a confident adult who can be fully present (no phone) when they’re together and uses social media to connect in a meaningful way with others rather than a hurtful one.

(NOTE: Hurtful can be through shaming others or feeling insecure in who you are as a result of what you see online. Remember social media is the highlight reel of someone’s life, not the full story.)

If we model the right behavior, the next generation will internalize that and adopt it as well. The alternative, as the movie so gravely brings to light, is a future society of socially disconnected adults who do not know how to effectively relate, communicate, and work with one another.

The burden is on us as adults in this scenario to evaluate our own behavior and thought processes towards social media and the effect it has on our lives. Then pay it forward to the next generation of adults.


Channing Muller is an award winning marketing & public relations consultant and the principal of DCM Communications, based out of Chicago. She works with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing strategies developed through one-on-one and group consulting, customized marketing programs and public relations. She has been named a "25 Young Event Pro to Watch" by Special Events magazine and "40 Under 40" by Connect Meetings. Channing is an avid runner, lover of Labrador Retrievers, good food, delicious drinks, and an advocate for the American Heart Association.

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