Crosscut Talks

The Crisis at the Core of ‘The Social Dilemma’ with Jeff Orlowski

September 24, 2020

Director Jeff Orlowski talks about his hit documentary and how his work on climate change helped him prepare to tell the story of social media run amok. In the early days of social media, the promise was real. By democratizing connection, a new breed of tech companies seemed to be doing good in the world: reuniting long-lost family and friends, providing a platform for pro-democracy political movements, helping those isolated by interest or identity to find a sense of belonging. Also, there were a lot of cat memes. The future was bright, until it wasn't. In recent years, social media platforms have been conjuring a different vision of the future: digital dystopia. As seen in the new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, these platforms are now intense battlegrounds where misinformation is elevated and partisan division is deepened. At the root of the problem, says Orlowski and the many former tech executives he interviews, is a business model that feeds on attention and prioritizes shareholder value. For this week’s episode of the Crosscut Talks podcast, Orlowski discusses his documentary, how his work covering the climate crisis has helped him navigate this social crisis, and what he believes must be done to save our society. Plus, Crosscut reporter Melissa Santos tells us how a conspiracy cult flourishing on social media has now infiltrated electoral politics in Washington state.