The Social Dilemma: defeating its own purpose; Analysing how The Social Dilemma propagates polarisation instead of providing a solution for it
Asperdt, B.A.W. van
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The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma focuses on the problem of polarisation and other dangers of social media usage. The arguments made by the documentary, however, have generally been accepted without further critical thought. This paper therefore provides a rereading of the documentary and the accompanying website as a paratext in search for how it propagates polarisation instead of attempting to eliminate it. This has been done by looking at rhetorical strategies employed throughout the film, exploring how the makers of the documentary have produced a counter- mythology to oppose the current consensus around implications of social media usage and the power of Big Tech companies and analysing the filmmaker’s goal of activism, induced by collective identity formation. It has been found that The Social Dilemma deploys mostly deliberative rhetoric in the predominant rhetorical modes of pathos and ethos throughout its argumentation. By making use of an expository and participatory cinematic mode of documentary making, the makers of The Social Dilemma seek to provide personal insights from credible professionals in the field in a pursuit of the truth behind the scenes of the social media landscape as well as to make it easier for the audience to engage with the counter-mythology they produce. Lastly, The Social Dilemma encourages its audience into activism by adding incentive to visit their website and take actions in order to prevent a dramatic turn of events in the near future, possibly even leading to the end of humanity, according to one of the interviewees. In the deployment of these strategies, however, the makers have eliminated the possibility for different, opposing voices to be heard, having led to the final product of a documentary which itself can easily lead to polarisation in the minds of its audience.