Social Dilemma Film Study


Essential Question: How does Social Media affect individuals and society?
The Social Dilemma, LucidChart Diagrams
: Present and Discuss Mind Maps, view Social Dilemma Segment, discuss Circle Questions, Exit Forms
Learning Objectives: Students will:

  • Analyze the sources that create a social media feed, and the goals driving the algorithms that control it

  • Share and reflect on the impacts social media have on people in general, and teen girls in particular

  • Consider how experts, first-person witnesses and dramatized characters contribute evidence for the film.

  • Compare film evidence with news stories from different print sources.


The Social Dilemma (home page) emphasizes how easily people are manipulated by machine algorithms and notifications to spend much more time online than they might wish, and to “feed the platform” in the same addictive way that gamblers feed coins into slot machines. Students encounter ex-tech executives decrying the systems they have built, a tween girl despondent at a comment about her ears, and a teen boy roped into an astro-turfed conspiracy group called the “Extreme Center.”

The movie is used to provide simulated experiences for students who are not yet on social media themselves, representations of the workings of social media algorithms to help conceptualize the back end of these apps, and commentary to provide context and analysis. In between scenes, students participate in circle discussions about their own experiences on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. These discussions are captured and/or prompted by mind maps that reflect content shared in the film.

Mind Maps for
Social Media Analysis

LucidChart Diagrams

Associated with film segments -see selected transcript segments prepared for this unit.

  1. You are the Product I

  2. 3 Goals of Algorithms II

  3. You are the Product 2 III

  4. Hurting Teens IV

  5. The Algorithm V

  6. Misinformation and Conspiracy VI


Use The Social Dilemma in middle and high school classes.

The dramatizations, visualizations and metaphors help introduce how ads fund social media, pushing them to do anything to predict behavior and maintain engagement, and to develop AI to mine use data to control of human behavior. The impact of social media on tween and teen self image is well dramatized, as is its role as a misinformation amplifier.

Use the Discussion and Action Guide to parse out topics and pause the video in 15-minute segments to follow with student-led discussions. Use "exit ticket" formative assessment to monitor student understanding of each discussion topic and reinforce with presentations in following class.

Note: There is material in the film that may be upsetting to students (like the pedophile ring story behind QAnon). Teachers should preview the film. Here is a quick review; scroll down for a PMI (Plus / Minus Interesting) and do a web search t0 see other reviews that question whether this is more of a horror film than a documentary - and judge the extent of that critique, and how to compensate for it during instruction.

To contextualize misinformation's origins, dynamics, and role in Trump-era politics and society, consider the movie TrustMe. That movie also has upsetting content, from the pedophile ring of Qanon to the misinformation-based murder of an Indian man.