Mark Zuckerberg isn't mentioned by full name until late in this documentary, but his company's outsize influence on the world of social media is felt all over The Social Dilemma. The featured talking heads here have mostly left top tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter after having helped build them up, and now seem to suffer from a collective guilty conscience. That only adds to how convincing they are about the existential threat social media poses, and their expertise pulls back the curtain on the methods. "We're all lab rats," one person suggests in a documentary full of similarly worrying statements that leave the impression social media is to blame for many -- if not most -- contemporary individual and social ills.
Director Jay Orlowski visualizes some of the talking head commentary in animated sequences and a dramatized fictional narrative about phone-addicted teens suffering from negative online commentary and being manipulated by artificial intelligence (played by Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser) to dive down outrage-driven rabbit holes. These sequences may help illustrate the ideas for some viewers, but they aren't totally necessary. As expert voice after voice predicts more addiction, psychological afflictions, polarization, radicalization, and echo-chamber ignorance, it's impossible not to see the immediate relevance of their warnings. They leave us with a few recommendations and suggestions that may not be enough to turn the tide without public pressure for top-down regulation, but which the documentary makes clear we ignore at our own peril.