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‘The Social Dilemma’: What the documentary means to the future of ethics in managing user data.

Technology addiction is a real issue and social media is at the center of it.

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Technology addiction is a real issue and social media is at the center of it.

Photo credit: Andrea

There is a lot of buzz and skepticism about how much of our personal data is harvested from our social media accounts. To many skeptics, the whole idea of what social media owners do with personal data has been a beehive of conspiracy theories. However, harvesting and monetizing of users’ data is seen as the main financial model for these companies.

The Netflix documentary from Jeff Orlowski  'The Social Dilemma' seeks to shed light on the negative impact of social media on the society. In this documentary, former employees of major technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are interviewed on the effects of these platforms. The documentary leaves us with a lot of questions on the ethics and future of managing personal user data by these corporations. 

As we advance technologically, we need to be even wearier of the ethical implications of the technology. From the perspective of Netflix’s documentary, the questions raised have been offered no solution. In fact, one of the solutions provided is quitting these sites. But we all know this won’t happen - at least not entirely. However, it would be good to consider these issues as a starting point: 

1. Collection of Personal Data 

Search engines and social media sites are required to collect personal data and process it in order to provide the best quality services. With the growth in the industry, it is expected that these companies will be collecting more of our personal data as brought out in the Netflix documentary. What is worrying is that the collection for a long time has been done without legal frameworks and guidelines. However, it is expected that more governments and related authorities will formulate laws that govern the collection of personal data by these sites. For instance, GDPR  in the European Union is a set of laws that govern how personal data is collected and processed by a website. 

2. Intimate Data

The future of ethics when dealing with personal data is that more of the data collected will be intimate. This is because, for digital marketing to work, the marketers need to understand the personal details of an individual. It is apparent that the intimate data is useful to these platforms such as google in providing accurate results. Therefore, there is a need to understand that more intimate data will be collected and as a result, there is a need to understand the ethical consequences. 

3. Addictive Behaviours 

From the documentary, one of the issues raised is how addictive these sites are. It is apparent that social media is designed to ensure that you spent the most time there. Therefore, they take advantage of the features that trigger addictive behavior. The ethical question that arises from this is what is the effect of psychological marketing techniques applied by social media sites?  Technology addiction is a real issue and social media is at the center of it. The use of addictive methods in marketing and technology needs to be studied more and a balance struck between ethical and unethical methods. 

4. Emotional Exploitation

Another theme that comes out clearly from the documentary is emotional exploitation. Generally, brands such as Facebook and Google are socially responsible to ensure that their products are socially conscious and do not exploit their users emotionally. The future of social media on the matter is that there will be an increase in the number of technology-based courses taking a  closer look at the impact of emotional exploitation. 


Our history is not a pathway to our past but rather a glimpse of the future. The Netflix documentary by Jeff Orlowski  'The Social Dilemma' has shed light on the history of how technology, especially social media, has been exploited with little concern on ethics. At the end of the documentary, it is apparent that there is no provision of a solution to the issue of ethics in managing personal data. 

Maybe the question we should ask is if these companies can thrive ethically? From the discussion above, a few pointers have been raised and we believe they will help in addressing the issues of ethics in managing personal data. However, this is easier said than done. As you will realize, ethics is all about how society sets its moral standards. The light at the end of the tunnel on this matter is the fact that the future is based on ethics. The nature of advertisements and social media is seeing a dynamic shift. This will continue as long as such conversations continue to dominate.

Written by

Kelvin Mokaya

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