'The Social Dilemma' filmmaker says ‘any country’ could meddle in election with weapon of mass misinformation
How social media sites, networks could be manipulating your mind
Ex-Google design ethicist Tristan Harris joins ‘Bill Hemmer Reports’ to discuss Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’
Jeff Orlowski's wildly popular Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” laid bare the negative impact Big Tech can have on people, but the filmmaker believes Americans still may not grasp the full extent to which a handful of companies could influence the upcoming presidential election.
“The Social Dilemma” features several Silicon Valley insiders explaining the dark side of social media, with everyone from the co-inventor of Facebook’s “like” button to high-powered executives weighing in.
“We have created a weapon of mass misinformation that can be deployed on our soil,” the film director told Fox News. “That’s a reality. Any country could jump in and interfere with our election or any process that we have going on.”
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“The Social Dilemma” director Jeff Orlowski is “very concerned” that Americans aren’t even fully aware of how impactful Big Tech can be on the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
To make his point, Orlowski paraphrased early Facebook investor Roger McNamee who explained in the film that Russia didn’t “hack” Facebook, it simply “used” the social media company during the 2016 election.
“The ability for these platforms to be weaponized is incredibly scary to me,” Orlowski said. “American companies made a platform, that exists on American soil, that foreign agents can use, at practically no cost, and with practically no traceability, to drop information bombs on our country with no oversight.”
Orlowski feels that other threats to democracy are closely monitored but the same can’t be said about Big Tech.
“If somebody tried to fly a plane into our airspace, we have government agencies that would take it down immediately. But if somebody tries to drop an information bomb into our population, who might be intentionally, as we’ve seen in the past, spreading different messages to different parts of our population, just to get them riled up and incite anger, and to incite resentment, that can come in from a foreign actor with no ability for the Unites States government to really identify it, to squash it or to eliminate it,” he said.
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The Media Research Center recently found that employees of “both Facebook and Twitter gave over 90 percent of their political contributions to Democrats for the 2020 cycle so far.” This came after another recent report showed the overwhelming majority of campaign contributions from employees at big tech firms went to Democratic candidates.
Meanwhile, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Josh Hawley on Thursday called on the heads of Twitter and Facebook to testify about alleged social media censorship and said a subpoena was in the works, as critics claimed the social media platforms have been suppressing reports critical of Democrats.
While Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for suppressing damning news about Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Orlowski doesn’t think his concerns are only a problem for conservatives.
“I think this is something that affects everybody no matter what issue you care about,” Orlowski said. “And no matter what issue you care about, there is an algorithm that’s amplifying an opposing perspective at the same time.”
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Orlowski feels that there are many issues that Americans need to have “meaningful, bipartisan” conversations about but the echo chamber of social media is undermining our ability to hash things out.
Tim Kendall, a central figure in the film, was once the director of monetization at Facebook but now runs Moment, a company dedicated to “fighting to reimagine the tech industry as one built for its users.” Kendall recently told Fox News that the “attention-based business model of social media companies is a threat to democracy” and could eventually result in a civil war.
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“Extreme outcomes are the logical end conclusion if there is no action on social media reform during the increasing destabilization of civil society,” Kendall said.
Orlowski said Kendall’s rhetoric is “extreme” but ultimately didn't discount it.
“My core belief would be that we are only going to continue going down this trajectory. It’s only going to continue increasing conspiracy theories, misinformation, polarization, impacts on teen mental health. Those, in my mind, are the outcomes of these platforms and it’s just a matter of how long can they operate until and [how bad] will things get,” Orlowski said. “To some degree, it does feel as I’m articulating it now like it leads towards a path to civil war if we don’t take action.”
The filmmaker thinks tech giants should be responsible for information promoted on their platforms and that journalism is being harmed by their actions. He pointed to the controversial Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that allows companies such as Facebook and Twitter to have the “benefits of being a publisher without the responsibility” of being a publisher.
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“There is intentional friction with journalism. There is research, you had editors, fact-checkers, you have all these steps that are designed to make sure the information is credible and reliable before it hits the public. The social media platforms say, ‘None of that matters. We’ll just take anything and everything because that’s our business model, our business model is quantity, so we’ll take as much in and spread it as much as we can. Only if things are really socially egregious will we flag it and regulate it,’” Orlowski said.
“The Social Dilemma" is now streaming on Netflix.
“Meanwhile, there are inaccuracies that just bleed into the system constantly,” he said. “One of the stats that we have in the film [indicates that] lies spread six times faster than the truth on Twitter. … The truth is never going to win in a system like that.”
“The Social Dilemma” helps explain how social media and Big Tech can be harmful to mental health, but Orlowski is hopeful that people will eventually ditch Twitter and Facebook in favor of platforms that do less damage.
“I’m really optimistic that a new type of social media will come out that makes you feel better after you use it. That makes you feel more informed about the world and makes you feel a deeper connection with your friends and family,” Orlowski.
“There is a huge opportunity for growth around new technology that will actually, genuinely connect you and where the goal is real connection as opposed to the platforms that we’re dealing with now where connection was never the real goal and intention in my mind.”
The filmmakers said business has been prioritized by power-hungry tech executives who have figured out how to make their products as addicting as possible.
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“Their intentions and what they’ve been optimized for seem pretty clear to us now,” Orlowski said. “The platforms have reverse engineered everybody’s vulnerabilities.”
Orlowski noted that some people get addicted to Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok but Facebook was his drug of choice.
“Facebook was the thing that figured me out and showed me a whole bunch of political stuff. My vulnerability was Facebook politics and it was in the process of working on this film that I started to see and recognize that I was in this crazy filter bubble of just hearing the same thing over and over and over and I’m getting a completely warped perspective on the world because of what this algorithm is feeding me.”
Orlowski said years of engaging with Facebook resulted in an algorithm that only showed him wanted he wanted to see – whether it was true or not.
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“It just drifts you further and further away from the truth,” Orlowski said. “That was a big wakeup call for me and I completely stopped using all social media in the making of this film.”
Orlowski has been suggesting that people who disagree politically but want to engage in a civil conversation should literally swap phones for a period of time.
“Look at their Facebook or Twitter feed and have them look at your Facebook or Twitter feed and come together around the different types of information that you might be seeing,” he said.
The filmmaker isn’t quite sure what his next project will be after “The Social Dilemma” became such an important part of the cultural zeitgeist, but for now he just wants to keep advancing the conversation about the dangers of Big Tech.
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“We’re just trying to support the film and have this conversation with as many people as we can,” he said. “It’s been above and beyond anything we could have hoped for. The fact that this conversation is happening has just been so fulfilling.”
“The Social Dilemma" is now streaming on Netflix
Fox News' Marisa Schultz contributed to this report
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