About “The Social Dilemma” And “The Perfect Weapon”

5 min read

This is an attempt to offer my take on the recent documentaries – Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma” and HBO’s “The Perfect Weapon” and the concerns they transude.

Few weeks ago, I watched Netflix’s new documentary “The Social Dilemma” that twitched my privacy muscle. And over this past weekend watched HBO’s documentary on Cyber warfare “The Perfect Weapon“, which refreshed my memory on all the cyber warfare activity in the past decade. Randy Sabett suggests that it’s a pendulum that swings between security and privacy, and adding further to that notion – the oscillation frequency of that pendulum has increased recently. In view of the Cybersecurity awareness month and the upcoming US elections, I reckoned offering my take on these must watch documentaries, would be a therapeutic remedy for me and hope it would be for you too.

I had a similar encounter in 2012 (that privacy muscle twitch!) – when I watched Code2600 (released in 2011) that was premiered at the SecureWorld conference in Dallas. This documentary was intended to be “a provocative wake-up call for a society caught in the grips of a global technology takeover“. But over a period, the message faded in the ebbs and flows of our ever expanding daily digital social life. From the year 2012 until 2020, we witnessed and endured the way social media has impacted our lives in ways we probably didn’t anticipate, both positive and negative. We have seen it being instrumental in some heartfelt reunions of long lost family members/friends, providing a platform to share information such as this post! But on the other hand it has been used for nefarious purposes such as influencing political parties/elections, dividing societies, rise in pandemic rumors that were prevalent during the crisis of the generation, caused emotional distress on teenage kids and the list goes on. I consider “The Perfect Weapon” being the stark reality of the world we live in today and “The Social Dilemma” is just another wakeup call.

“Consider The Perfect Weapon being the stark reality of the world we live in today and The Social Dilemma is just another wakeup call”

In 2012, the focus was on how your personal data is mined and monetized. Since that wasn’t bad enough, “The Social Dilemma” lifts the veil on yet another startling fact that it’s not so much about your data but rather how your data is used to manipulate your behavior which has become the commodity. The movie reveals that a greater loss may be inflicted to us as a society including wiping out democracies, and this probably is an outreach…or is it? You never know what can transpire in another 8-10 years, especially when the tech is advancing exponentially. The movie quotes a reference showing that the computer processing power increased trillion times from the 1960s to today. Compared to that rate, every other development we witnessed is negligible. Back in 2017, I put together a list of sci-fi movies that may/have rendered into real life scenarios. If I may, I would like to suggest a metric here – Fiction To Fact Realization Rate (FTFRR). FTFRR may be derived by tracking the duration from the time a suggested idea or a proposed tech to the time it becomes a reality. Now doing that for all the tech we encountered in the recent years/decades and then averaging it would give us the FTFRR. I’d bet if we tracked this for the last 10 or may 20 years, the observation would be a rapidly lowering of FRFRR over the years. The reason is not mathematical but rather commonsensical. Increase in technology that’s enabling other technology is resulting in the lowering of FTFRR. An actionable insight from this metric, when it is trending down FTFRR over a period, implies that we need to adapt rapidly and increase our ability to address the risks the new tech would bring.

“The Social Dilemma” focuses on how vulnerabilities in human psychology have been exploited by social media platforms, impact on the next generation/society, what is being done and could be done to change the trajectory of this digital asteroid that can lead us to a doomsday. “The Perfect Weapon” covers the aspects of how cyber vulnerabilities are being exploited by nation state actors to inflict cyber harm.

The Problem

We need to start addressing the problem at some level. But, to do that, we need to acknowledge two things: first, that there is a problem, as the saying goes – the first step on the path to recovery for an alcoholic is to acknowledge it. Secondly, comprehend the fact that the genie (the tech platform that can influence and manipulate people’s minds) is out and cannot be put back into the bottle which is clarified in the movie. Once we get consensus on these two facts, we move to the root cause of the problem which in my opinion is an accountability and awarness problem.

“At the core, proliferation of social media, its usage, and impact is an accountability problem while cyber warfare is an awareness problem”

We need to alter our own behavior and take control before the social media does it for us every second, irrespective of the fact that its being manipulated or not. It’s a 2nd grade lesson to differentiate between wants and needs! Social media platforms fall into neither category. It actually fits into a bespoke need category. And most definitely not under the want bucket. But after years of influence and “positive intermittent reinforcement” (in psychological terms as presented in the movie), unbeknownst to all of us, we somehow ended up putting this into a want category that lead us down this slippery slope.

Let’s Get A Head Start

As I suggested earlier that this is an accountability issue and could possibly be addressed by uplifting the responsible entities that may include – our own self, family, society, technology companies, government.

An accountability training based on the book “The Oz Principle” that I had taken years ago might be a suitable tool here. The training was focused on implementing methods that would help attain results and uplift individual and organizational accountability based on a framework that was built on this principle. In the context of the social dilemmas we face, each one of us can be held accountable for the consequences. So if you consider to be in the category that tends to ignore, deny, consider this not to be your job, or would like to wait and see, which most of us are pertaining to minimize social media usage, then we all should strive to change that. This can possibly be achieved by:

  • Acknowledging that there are impediments (which you just did by reading through this post or watched the movie and agreeing for the most part!)
  • Agreeing on the list of impediments (this could be your social media apps that you are addicted to or any tech spewing disinformation)
  • Learning about any unnecessary social media exhaust you may leaving behind that can be avoided
  • Taking action to delete these wily apps, and be in the driver seat when seeking information from social media and procure information such as news from proper channels that do not provide morphed information based on your location, persona or other factors.

At a time where governments are enforcing social scores for its citizens, I guess it’s fair to ask to have a trust score for organizations collecting, monetizing data and regulations that control this collection of data.

Call To Action

First, watch the documentary if you haven’t already. If you can, do watch “Code2600” and “The Perfect Weapon” too. Possibly as a group to spur some healthy debate that may translate to action.

Here’s what can be done:

  • Delete unnecessary social apps
  • If you must retain these apps, seek what you want and not what the app suggests
  • Turn off notifications
  • Regulating tech companies to create a level playing field

Here’s what I do today:

  1. I use DuckDuckGo for most of the searches and or Qwant, a search engine that doesn’t save your search history, over others.
  2. Deleted any unnecessary social applications on devices
  3. Proactively search what I am looking for rather than reacting to what’s been presented

Whichever direction your opinion may sway, we all can agree that the documentaries are:

  • An eye opener for all of us oblivious to the implications
  • A nudge in the right direction
  • An enabler that may lead us to take some action for the greater good

About “The Social Dilemma” And “The Perfect Weapon”

by Indrajit (Indy) Atluri time to read: 6 min