The Social Dilemma Essay Instructions

You probably have quite a bit of experience reading and summarizing. Since grade

school, you have been writing book reports and suffering through summer reading

programs. Reading, comprehending, and summarizing are vital skills. At the college

level, however, simply regurgitating material is insufficient. One of the most important

benefits of a college education is the ability to think critically. Understanding someone

else’s ideas and then responding to them is one of the most common tasks you will

encounter in your college classes. And although your future employer may never ask

you to provide a literary analysis of The Scarlett Letter or a research paper about global

warming, you will be expected to exercise critical thinking skills on a regular basis.


Write a summary-and-response essay about the documentary, The Social Dilemma. You

are not being asked to discuss whether you like/dislike the film or agree/disagree with

the ideas set forth in it. Instead, you are being asked to deconstruct the film and assess

the validity of the arguments set forth in it.

The summary portion of the essay should be fairly brief, preferably limited to


introductory paragraph but certainly no more than one body paragraph. Your


should take up the bulk of the paper.


• For this essay, you will incorporate two secondary sources. You may use The Social

Dilemma rebuttal articles as your sources, or you may choose your own sources

after conducting research. You must properly incorporate these sources into the

essay, using signal phrases to introduce the sources and using parenthetical

citations to credit the authors. You also will include a Works Cited page with correct

MLA citations for each source. In addition, you must properly cite The Social


• You must adhere to the formatting guidelines set forth in The MLA Handbook, 8th

edition. Be sure that all margins measure 1 inch and that you use the Times New

Roman 12-point font. You should also follow MLA formatting guidelines regarding

the page heading, running header, page numbering, etc. Finally, your citations must

conform to MLA citation style.

• The essay’s assigned length is 1,000−1,200 words.


Step 1. Grab some snacks and watch the film. The first time you view the film, do not


notes. Just enjoy it (hopefully) like you would any other movie.

Step 2. Watch the movie a second time. This time, you should pay close attention to


director’s argument. In addition, you should try to identify the director’s purpose and


audience. Take notes. Write down any relevant facts or statistics.

Step 3. Write a response to the film. Some questions to consider:

• What did you think about the film?

• Do you agree or disagree with the ideas set forth in it?

• Does the director convincingly prove his thesis? If not, why?

• What are the director’s underlying assumptions?

• What is Orlowski assuming that you will agree/disagree with?

• Does Orlowski omit information that would damage his argument? If so, what

information does he omit?

• What rhetorical strategy/strategies does Orlowski use? (See for

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/04/ more information about

rhetorical strategies).

Step 4. Complete the “Deconstructing a Documentary Film Worksheet.”

Step 5. Write the summary portion of the essay. Do not write the film equivalent of a


report. Instead, identify the director’s thesis and then summarize the evidence he uses

to support

that thesis. Be objective. Do not allow your own thoughts to creep into your summary.

Step 6. For the response section of the essay, choose one of the following strategies

for writing a

response essay:

• Analyze the effectiveness of the director’s argument – In this case, the response

analyzes key features, such as the clarity of the main idea; the organization of

the argument; the quality of the supporting evidence; and/or the effectiveness of

the author’s style, tone, and voice.

• Agree or disagree with the director’s argument – Often, responders react to the

ideas or the argument of the essay. In this case, the responders show why they

agree or disagree with what the director says.

• Interpret and reflect on the director’s argument – The responder examines the

underlying assumptions or the implications of the director’s argument. Often the

responder reflects on how his or her own experiences, attitudes, and

observations relate to the film.

Potential Topics for The Social Dilemma Essay

The following is a list of potential topics for The Social Dilemma essay. Don’t limit

yourself to these topics. Feel free to choose your own topic.

1. Is The Social Dilemma, biased? Is it accurate? What information provided in the film

is misleading?

2. Is social media beneficial, detrimental, or both beneficial and detrimental?

3. Is social media a drug? Is it addictive? Is this a problem?

4. Does social media damage our sense of self-worth and identity?

5. Does social media cause mental illness? For example, does it lead to depression and

anxiety? Do you agree with Orlowski (the director) that it can lead to suicide?

6. Do you agree with Orlowski that social media leads to a false sense that everyone

agrees with you because it narrows your social sphere to people who think like you?

Does it lead to polarization? In other words, does social media create ideological


7. Do you agree with Orlowski that social media propagates conspiracy theories and

fake news?

8. Should children be allowed to use social media? For example, many social media

platforms require users to be at least 13 years old. What age limit do you feel is

appropriate for social media use?

9. Does social media lead to bullying?

10. Does social media drive us apart or bring us together? Does it make us more/less

lonely and isolated?

11. Do you agree with Orlowski that social media is an assault on democracy? Does it

destabilize and erode society?

12. Should social media be permitted to collect data regarding our interests, political

views, et cetera?

13. Should social media platforms be permitted to tailor advertising to our personal


14. Do you agree with Orlowski that social media is an existential threat that brings out

the worst in society?

15. Should the government regulate social media?

16. Orlowski says that social media platforms should be designed humanely. Is this


17. Does social media cause us to compare our real lives to others’ idealized lives? In

other words, does it cause us to compare our real selves to other people’s fake


Organizational Strategies for The Social Dilemma Essay

Outline #1 Outline #2

I. Introduction

A. Introduce the film by providing the title of the film, the
director’s name, and perhaps a small amount of information

about the author.

B. State the thesis of the film.

C. State your thesis of your essay.

II. Summary

A. Point/Argument #1

B. Point/Argument #2

C. Point/Argument #3

D. Point/Argument #4

III. Response

A. Respond to Point/Argument #1

B. Respond to Point/Argument #2

C. Respond to Point/Argument #3

D. Respond to Point/Argument #4

IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction

A. Introduce the film by providing the title of the film, the
director’s name, and perhaps a small amount of information

about the author.

B. State the thesis of the film.

C. State the thesis of your essay.

II. Point/Argument #1

A. Summarize Point/Argument #1

B. Respond to Point/Argument #1

III. Point/Argument #2

A. Summarize Point/Argument #2

B. Respond to Point/Argument #2

IV. Point/Argument #3

A. Summarize Point/Argument #3

B. Respond to Point/Argument #3

V. Point/Argument #4

A. Summarize Point/Argument #4

B. Respond to Point/Argument #4

VI. Conclusion

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Bell 1

Bell 1

Great Student



30 Nov. 2041

Twenty-First Century Divide

The highly rated Netflix original documentary, The Social Dilemma, directed by Jeff Orlowski, sheds light on what is presented as the greatest threat to the modern world, social media. Now, this was not a highly anticipated piece of film prior to release, however, word-ofmouth made the documentary explode with views and popularity. The only real issue since the debut of the film is that some people think that the documentary is a touch too dramatic and believe that social media is not bad and the documentary over exaggerated the importance behind the message. While others maintain the idea that social media is bad and is causing real problems across not only America but the whole world. Although the documentary is slightly dramatic in the delivery, the overall message set fourth is that social media has created polarization, spread misinformation, created addiction, and created a new way of thinking which is that the user’s attention is the product, not the product itself.

Social Media was originally created with all good intentions. It was an idea that was built to bring people closer together even from a distance and allow everyone to connect even if you are online. Many of us that used social media from the very beginning would probably agree that it felt like that too! However, in recent years social media has come under major scrutiny for ethical reasons and how much social media really is involved in our personal lives even though we may not know it. Well, after The Social Dilemma was released in early 2020, it was clear that there was a massive divide between how the audience received the message. And this message summed up is, social media is bad and is controlling your life and the user is the target. Due to the message behind this film social media became even more scrutinized over what was portrayed by one side. On the other hand, the opposing crowd says that the documentary perceived social media in a dramatic manner and is completely exaggerating the extent to which social media has an influence on the personal lives of individuals. Although social media has created a divide and sold personal information for monetary gain, the documentary did dramatize the narrative to a great extent by creating these fictional characters that the documentary followed upon each topic of discussion. The program even went as far as to create fictional people that were supposed to be social media’s “algorithms” that would send people notifications, supply content that they were interested in, and sold the users data for ads. As

Polina Kroik describes in her rebuttal of the film, “This dramatization isn’t much better written and acted than the cautionary videos we’ve been shown at school, yet the young protagonists are sympathetic, and the simple narratives get the point across.” This did make the documentary feel slightly dramatic and took away from the serious message that the producers were trying to make but did get the overall intent across.

One of the main points the documentary tries to prove is that social media has created an addiction unlike any other. This addiction is fueled by a process called positive intermittent reinforcement. Positive intermittent reinforcement as described in the documentary can be shown with an example. Every time you pull down and refresh the page you are met with brand new content every time no matter how many times you do this. The production lay this out as a key reason for why social media becomes addicting to many people in modern society. Tristan Harris, who is an ex-Google employee who worked as a design ethicist and was also featured in the film explained it as the following. “When we check our phones hoping that we have a notification, it’s like we are pulling the lever of a slot machine hoping we hit the jackpot.” It is incredibly interesting that social media and such a basic function of it is being compared to the feeling of thrill that you get from a slot machine while gambling. However, the difference between the two is that you do not have to pay for one or worry about losing money, or do you? Perhaps one of the most important themes of this documentary is that we as the users are the product. The way it is explained is that because we do not pay for these products and services that social media provides and the advertisers are the ones paying for the services, then we as the users are the product. Tristan Harris again in the The Social Dilemma says this, “The classic saying is, if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” The main point that the producers are trying to get across from this is that these massive social media companies are competing for your attention because that is valuable to them. Nearly all social media platforms business model is revolved around advertisement, hence the companies selling a good or service pay the social platforms to be presented to you on your feed. Therefore, the user is seen as the product and not the platforms themselves.

In conclusion, the Netflix original documentary The Social Dilemma presents what are seen as many pressing issues with massive tech giants of today. The documentary lays out a plethora of reasons on why social media is destroying society. Overall, these issues are presented as misinformation, addiction, and monetary gain when the user is the product. However, there is an enormous divide between parties when deciding if the documentary displays an accurate picture of social media platforms and the negative effects they cause, or if there is just too much drama and it is all a hoax. You will have to decide for yourself.

Work Cited

Kroik, Polina. “Netflix’s Social Dilemma Tells Us How Facebook Hacks Our Minds, but It Leaves out One Crucial Thing.” Medium, Digital Diplomacy, 7 Oct. 2020, https://medium.com/digital-diplomacy/netflixs-social-dilemma-tells-us-how-facebookhacks-our-minds-but-it-leaves-out-one-crucial-thing-8bad086c2670.

“3 Things We Learned about Social Media from Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma.’” Blackstone LaunchPad, 2 Nov. 2020, https://launchpad.syr.edu/3-things-we-learned-about-socialmedia-from-netflixs-the-social-dilemma/.

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