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Facebook Slams Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’ as ‘Distorted’ and Sensationalist

Todd Spangler
·3 mins read

Facebook has a bone to pick — actually, several bones — with “The Social Dilemma,” Netflix’s recently released documentary that sounds the alarm about the negative effects of the social media industry’s business practices.

The social-media giant released a seven-point rebuttal Friday to the Netflix film, from director Jeff Orlowski, which debuted Sept. 9.

“We should have conversations about the impact of social media on our lives. But ‘The Social Dilemma’ buries the substance in sensationalism,” Facebook said in the document posted Friday. “Rather than offer a nuanced look at technology, it gives a distorted view of how social media platforms work to create a convenient scapegoat for what are difficult and complex societal problems.”

Netflix reps did not immediately provide comment.

The 93-minute documentary film features interviews with former execs of Facebook, Twitter, Google and other companies. “The Social Dilemma” explores issues including tech addiction, the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories, election manipulation and the algorithms social media and tech companies use to suggest content and target ads. The movie at various points shows a fictitious family played by actors to illustrate the negative effects of social media addiction.

“This potent documentary by Jeff Orlowski lends a podium to various experts who are certain the pervasive influence of under-regulated social media is destroying civilization from within,” Variety critic Dennis Harvey wrote in his review.

Facebook complained that the film’s creators “do not include insights from those currently working at the companies or any experts [who] take a different view to the narrative put forward by the film.” In addition, the company said, “The Social Dilemma” does not “acknowledge — critically or otherwise — the efforts already taken by companies to address many of the issues they raise. Instead, they rely on commentary from those who haven’t been on the inside for many years.”

Regarding the film’s discussion of Facebook’s “mad” algorithm, the company also pointedly noted that Netflix itself uses an algorithm “to determine who it thinks should watch ‘The Social Dilemma’ film, and then recommends it to them. This happens with every piece of content that appears on the service.”

Among the points raised in “The Social Dilemma” that Facebook challenged:

  • The company claims its News Feed product teams are not incentivized to build features that increase time spent on Facebook products.

  • On election interference, Facebook said that it has “acknowledged that we made mistakes in 2016. Yet the film leaves out what we have done since 2016 to build strong defenses to stop people
    from using Facebook to interfere in elections.”

  • Facebook says the “idea that we allow misinformation to fester on our platform, or that
    we somehow benefit from this content, is wrong.” The company claims it has a global network of more than 70 factchecking partners.

  • Facebook says that, contrary to what the film suggests, the company has policies that prohibit businesses from sending sensitive data on people such as users’ health info or Social Security numbers.

  • The company claims it has “made significant changes” to how it manages user data as part of the agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, under which it paid a record $5 billion fine. “We’ve created new safeguards for how data is used, given people new controls on how to manage their data and now have thousands of people working on privacy-related projects so that we can continue to meet our privacy commitments and keep people’s information safe,” the company says.

“The Social Dilemma,” currently streaming on Netflix, has its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. The film is an Exposure Labs production in association with Argent Pictures.

Pictured above: Skyler Gisondo as “Ben” in Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma”