Facebook says Netflix's The Social Dilemma 'gives a distorted view'

The company says the film "buries the substance in sensationalism."

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read

Facebook is playing defense over accusations surfaced in the Netflix film The Social Dilemma.

Angela Lang/CNET

Netflix's documentary The Social Dilemma has sparked conversations about social media's impact on our lives and mental health, and Facebook has now officially joined the discussion. The company shared a post on its site Friday titled "What 'The Social Dilemma' Gets Wrong," in which it says the documentary "buries the substance in sensationalism."

Facebook complains that the film's creators don't include insights from current employees at the companies mentioned, or from people who have alternate viewpoints. 

"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," Facebook writes. "They also don't 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."

The company then goes into a list of things it says the film "gets wrong." When it comes to the issue of addiction, Facebook says: "Our News Feed product teams are not incentivized to build features that increase time-spent on our products. Instead we want to make sure we offer value to people, not just drive usage." 

Facebook points to an example in 2018 when it changed its News Feed ranking to prioritize "meaningful social interactions" rather than things like viral videos. The company says this move led to a decrease of 50 million hours a day on the platform. "That isn't the kind of thing you do if you are simply trying to drive people to use your services more," the company wrote.

Next, Facebook rebutted the idea that users are the product, noting, "Facebook is funded by advertising so that it remains free for people." It also defended its use of algorithms, saying that Facebook's technology "keeps the platform relevant and useful." It pointed to other platforms that use algorithms, including Netflix, adding: "Portraying algorithms as 'mad' may make good fodder for conspiracy documentaries, but the reality is a lot less entertaining." 

Other issues Facebook rebuts include how it uses data, as well as its alleged role in contributing to polarization and spreading misinformation.

Netflix didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Discussions around technology and mental health have driven many big tech companies to roll out measures designed to curb tech addiction. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook began hiding likes after being criticized for fostering anxiety and depression. AppleGoogle and Facebook have also rolled out well-being tools aimed at helping users monitor their screen time.

See also: Share your screen on Facebook Messenger for iPhone and Android, here's how

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