Released in early September on Netflix, The Social Dilemma, has, ironically, taken the internet by storm (akin to Tiger King, another Netflix documentary released this year). The new documentary, like many before, tackles the negative effects of social media on both individuals and society at large. While the argument against social media has been made since its inception, The Social Dilemma enters into the conversation with fantastic results by uncovering social media’s inner workings from the inside, and how the decisions of just a select few people in Silicon Valley continue to radically change the world around us. A unique aspect of The Social Dilemma is the featuring of former high ranking employees of the largest social media companies in the world and hearing them explain the nature of the problem from their first-hand experience. They expose the hidden dangers of social media as feelings of isolation and unworthiness, disconnection with reality, and even the toppling of democratic elections and governments.
While the documentary discusses the universal societal problem of social media addiction, Generation Z—those born between approximately 1996 and 2015—have the most to learn. The first generation of digital natives, they grew up with technology and got on social media in middle school. Members of Gen Z find themselves in a unique situation: they never lived in a world before cell phones, and because of this they don’t know a life outside of them. The following list details the main takeaways of the documentary in characterizing Gen Z in the modern context of social media.
Social Media Affects Gen Z’s Mental Health
While it must go without mentioning that of course, social media affects mental health, the extent to which it does to younger people specifically must be discussed. Since social media is hacked to prey on the faults of human psychology, Gen Z is more susceptible to being manipulated. A shocking statistic featured in the documentary grapples with the rapid increase in self-harm and suicide for young girls since the advent of social media: from 2009 to 2015, the hospital admission rate for non-fatal self-harm rose 62% for girls aged 15-19, and for girls aged 10-14 it rose a shocking 189%. Sadly it doesn’t get better, with suicide rates of girls 15-19 rising 70%, and the rate for girls 10-14 rising 151% in the same years. When social media doesn’t manifest itself in self-harm, it still manages to wreak havoc. The fear of missing out (FOMO), isolationism, anxiety, and heightened insecurities are all unfortunate effects that Gen Z deal with to some extent.
Social Media is (Purposefully) Addicting
Social media addiction is widespread among all generations but much more acute in the younger generation. Most people suffer from social media addiction to a certain point, because while nobody admits (at least willingly) that they have a problem, the “endless scroll” is a universal inevitability once boredom hits. The very structure of social media is designed to keep you on your phone, and the addition of several large social media platforms creates competition for your attention. Screen time usage for Gen Z averages several hours per day, dedicating much of the time in their day on their cell phones and social media. More shockingly is that cell phones adapt to usage patterns over time, and the more times you use your phone and social media, the more likely you are to be on your phone longer, because of social media’s ever-growing sophistication on user profiles.
Gen Z is Predictable
While everyone, especially young people, want to feel special and unique (“Participation Trophy” generation), Gen Z is easily predictable—but that’s not their fault. The idea that our cell phones are listening to us has been thrown around for years, so it may come as no surprise that there’s truth in it. Advertisers are acutely aware of each user profile, and specifically tailors ads towards demographic groups in order to seek profit. This predictability has made Gen Z very easily persuadable on social media, and this has negative consequences. Gen Z is susceptible to believing in and spreading fake news, with fake news articles actually spreading 6 times quicker than real ones. Targeted ads and misinformation has shaped Gen Z’s shopping habits and political beliefs.
Gen Z Aren’t Risk Takers
A major drawback to social media is how easy it is for users to waste long stretches of time, and this has actually had real-world effects on Gen Z. In a weirdly sick sense, social media is incredibly comforting for Gen Z, but to a fault: they take fewer risks. There is a comfort in knowing there is always more content guaranteed on social media, but this has inhibited young people from taking risks in real life because of the lack of scurity. With an active social media page and online persona, it’s like Gen Z simultaneously struggles with the Main Character Complex and Imposter Syndrome, both important and invisible in the grand scheme of things. Risk inhibition is most apparent in Gen Z’s expectations and romantic relationships since they are less likely to get a driver's license and even go on dates. By and large, the younger generation is plagued by their fragility and anxiousness, which sadly translates directly into their actions and lack thereof.
The Social Dilemma is available to watch on Netflix.