Quickfire Round: The Social Dilemma

I’m glad this documentary exists, as it’s made a lot of people wake up to the fact that massive social media companies like Facebook are hardly being generous by giving free access to their platform. Alas, corny acting prevents it reaching its full potential.

Haters gonna hate.

First, the good bits: this film presents first-hand accounts of how social media companies are engineering their platforms to maximise user engagement, putting the health and safety of their billions of users on the back burner as they compete to sell advertising spots. We hear about techniques such as A/B testing – tiny tweaks to the user experience, like moving the location of a button, are rolled out to a random selection of users to see whether it increased or decreased engagement.

Little nuggets of inside information and analysis like that are welcome – another example is Facebook’s photo tagging feature. Ever had an email like, ‘Emily tagged you in a photo on Facebook’? Notice how they don’t show you the photo in the email – you have to go onto the platform to see it. And while you’re there, you might as well check your notifications, and your news feed, and the latest group posts… you get the idea.

Okay, now the not-so-good. Firstly, the show entertains a little too much conspiracy for my liking. In some painfully acted live action scenes, we see ‘the algorithm’ represented by three Facebook engineers in a lab, watching their target’s life and deciding when to ping their phone to drag them into the platform and view an ad that they just sold for 3 cents. The thing is, Facebook does run instant auctions for advertisers to bid on an impression on a user’s Facebook feed. What they don’t do is literally spy on your actual life and ping you at the exact time it most benefits them. They just don’t.

The rest of the acted scenes are also pretty bad. I understand what they were trying to do with the part showing the teenage boy getting increasingly radicalised by far-right propaganda, enough to attend a rally and get arrested, but it didn’t hit deep enough and it just felt so weak as to be worthless.

Thankfully the takeaway from the film is something I can agree with: social media wasn’t invented to be evil, but evil it has become. Delete Facebook, the worst offender by far. If you need to, create a plain shell account to stay in touch with those who can’t be persuaded off the platform.

427w

What I thought about: I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel’s comedy-drama about sexual assault is, I suppose, what you would call a masterpiece of television. I feel as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of understanding the show after running through the episodes once.

The supporting cast, such as Weruche Opia (playing Arabella’s best friend, Terry) are also excellent.

What’s it about?
Arabella, played by Coel, is a millennial who rose to fame after posting a series of relatable tweets which eventually got turned into a book (this actually happens more than you might think). On the eve of a draft deadline for her second novel, Arabella allows herself one hour to have a fun night out with friends. At some point her drink is spiked, and she wakes up, disorientated and with an alarming cut on her forehead. Her only memory of the night before is a sinister flashback that suggests she was raped, which she initially ignores.

What do I like about it?
The show covers a wide spectrum of contemporary issues around sex, sexuality, assault, and substance abuse, which are ever important topics in society. These are handled with hints of humour that make for interesting watching without detracting from their seriousness.

You have to understand that, although the show has a degree of linearity in its storytelling, Coel exercises a large dollop of artistic licence. This allows for interesting narratives including a flashback to the characters’ younger years, a little bit of hallucination, and the truly incredible final episode that sees Arabella confront her rapist.

What do I not like about it?
I’m cautious about saying too much in this section for fear of having not properly understood the show. Some of the issues it covers are delicate, and I hardly have first, or even second-hand experience of many of them, so I’m not sure it would be right for me to tackle them.

I will just say that I didn’t quite understand the role of Arabella’s flatmate Ben, besides understanding that, at face level, he’s a nice and somewhat reserved chap. I’d be really interested in getting an explainer from someone that was able to crack this nut.

I will also say that, as wide-ranging as the show was in terms of sexuality, the inclusion of a transgender character right at the end felt a little squeezed in, a sort of afterthought. It would have been good to see his relationship with one of the main characters (I won’t say who) develop and blossom a bit earlier on in the show.

Worth a watch?
Yes, just bear in mind it’s very 18+ and some scenes can be triggering.

By the way…

  • Coel revealed that she had been sexually assaulted while writing her previous hit, Chewing Gum, and her experience inspired this show.
  • When I watched the show, I mistakenly thought it had finished airing at Episode 10 (there are two more episodes), and was about to write my review being bitterly disappointed by the vague ending.

490w

What I thought about: Unbelievable (t/w: rape)

Straight up, I cried at the end of this one. Some people might get bored of the slow-burn, but you have to remember this is based on a true story, and I think the show’s pacing and tone portray the story in an appropriate – and very moving – way.

These two never gave up. And that’s what matters.

What’s it about?
Marie Adler claims she was raped at gunpoint in her apartment where she lives alone. It’s not an easy case for the local police department – the man wore a mask, he showered at her flat, and therefore left no trace of DNA behind. Marie struggles to recall any of the details of her ordeal as she’s questioned multiple times and asked to fill out form after form recalling her horrific experience.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but this is important. Not too long after Marie’s rape, and in a different state, a police detective attends a call of rape. This time, it plays out entirely differently. Detective Karen Duvall doesn’t rush the victim for a statement. It doesn’t matter, though, as the victim is able to recount the crime in spectacular detail. At the scene, the forensics team come up empty and ask the detective to call it a day. ‘Keep looking’, Duvall says.

Besides being an incredible story of determination by the two main police detectives, the series vibrantly highlights how each victim deals with their assault in a different way, and how some police forces are far better at treating victims of rape than others.

What do I like about it?
I didn’t know anything about the show before I hit ‘play’. At first I thought it was a series of completely unrelated stories of unbelievable true crime. But even with my guard down and without paying close attention, I could see the stark differences in the way the police approached the two rapes. The show does a fantastic job of capturing this.

The show covers everything so delicately and with such emotion. Kaitlyn Denver, playing the part of Marie Adler, is absolutely fantastic in this. Things get a lot worse for her before they get better, and there is a fine balance between feeling aggrieved at the injustice being suffered by Marie, and being filled with hope as the detectives close in on their man.

What do I not like about it?
I thought it was appropriate, but some might not like how slow the show is. I personally watched episode after episode, but I have to admit there’s not a lot happening in the middle. There are a lot of slow, panning shots of concerned faces. We also see into the private lives of the two detectives somewhat unnecessarily.

Worth a watch?
Yes. Do yourself a favour and watch this show. It’s important to help you emphasise with victims of rape, and at base level the facts of this true case are absolutely incredible.

By the way…

  • The story came to light in a 2015 article published on The Marshall Project website
  • There’s also a book titled A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America which you can pick up and read for a more in-depth and less dramatised look at the story

545w