The Network Dilemma II

Elyeser Szturm, from the Heavens series


Commentary on the newly released film

The network dilemma, a Netflix film, is making waves due to its criticism of digital networks. It features dramatizations in which teenagers addicted to cell phones and screens are manipulated by algorithms represented by actors. These caricatures express gimmicks used to capture attention and pervert human behavior in favor of “monetization”. They appeal to the emotional: a mother who decides to abolish the use of cell phones at the family dinner, people's abstinence crises, the way in which high school classmates socialize through networks.

The scenes are interspersed with testimonies of real characters. Most are around 30 years old and worked during the period when initial projects turned into large companies. White men predominate, some Indians. Few women, among which Dr. Lemcke who testifies as a doctor and mother and Shoshana Zuboff, academic, author of a book dissecting “surveillance capitalism”[I]. An investor and other characters complement the list of testimonials from which the excerpts that make up the film are taken. Zuboff's arguments structure several of the sequences and illustrate the moments in which digital networks appropriate consciences and behaviors, with the aim of “monetizing” technology companies.

The testimonies express perplexity at the phenomenon of transformation, into a money-making machine, of the ideals with which companies (and algorithms) were built by people willing to contribute to a better world. Between feelings of astonishment, confusion and anger, the interviewees reveal how they saw the creature get out of control, “perverted by monetization”[ii] and how their awareness began when they realized the disorders caused by addiction in themselves and their loved ones.

The discussion raised by the film allows us to identify some of the ends of the “crisis in which humanity is enmeshed” [iii]. The issue of “monetization” is not new.


The geographic background of the film is located in California, which was taken from Mexico and became part of the United States, after the gold rush (1849) demanded to (literally) monetize the international mercantile circulation of an industrial capitalism in ascension of the two sides of the Atlantic and a colonialism expanding across all seas. In 1971, the Santa Clara Valley became known as the Silicon Valley thanks to electronic companies, incubated at Stanford University and seeded with federal investments.

The phenomenon of “perversion by monetization” is recurrent. So, for example, in the mid-1970s, the Californian counterculture was intent on bringing computing power to the people. From there came Steve (Jobs and Wozniack) who would create Apple and found the famous company with this name. In the MacIntosh launch advertisement[iv] that moment was exalted as the liberation of the people against the Big Brother orwellian.

There, an especially dense space was created for private capital available for long-term investments. The companies referred to in the film spent years consuming resources before giving economic returns to investors. This is relevant to understanding the dynamics of “monetization”, that is, the specific capitalist development of the technology segment in that region. For long periods, young people with promising ideas are “incubated” with financial resources until they are transformed into profitable ventures. The logic of technically developing the product gives programmers conditions to realize themselves as creators. When monetization dominates, the logic of product development becomes determined by maximizing the advertiser's income.

The deformations denounced by the film are yet another chapter in the long struggle between the public interest and an advertising industry that, already in the XNUMXth century, sold coca extract and alcohol as an “intellectual drink, invigorating the brain and tonic for the nerves“[v] and, more recently, it has been the protagonist of episodes of damage to health and the environment, caused by the tobacco, pharmaceutical, food industries[vi], automotive, pesticides and so on without an epilogue in sight.

Google started in 1996 as an academic project by Stanford PhD students. Brin and Page developed a search engine that, by organizing results by relevance, swept the competition out of the market. In 1998 it became a company that began to incubate other projects and acquire third parties. In 2019, the exponential growth constituted a parent company with the name of Alphabet which, among other expressive elements of the current reality, includes chrome, gmail, youtube, maps, android.

Around the year 2.000, at the time of the dot-com boom on the stock exchanges, Google informally adopted the couplet “don't be evil" ("do not be mean")[vii]. Dictated by the need for clear guidance to employees was an idealistic stance. It included a critique of the corporate world in which an image of malignity prevailed that would result from greed and lack of principles. As Google grew the knot of conflict, it focused on the separation between users' search results and the list of links sponsored by paid advertising. These were presented side by side, but separated, as per the good guidelines of ethical Anglo-Saxon journalism. In 2015, the motto was downgraded to “do the right thing" ("do the right thing"). And, from there to here, it seems to be heading towards oblivion [viii]. This impression is reinforced by the departure of the founders from the daily command of operations from 2020 onwards. This story shows that the “perversion by monetization” can happen, despite the creators' conscience, genius and eventual nobility of objectives.

The stories of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, are best known. The project began in 2004 at Harvard (East Coast of the USA) as a game for boys who had fun classifying girls. Its exponential growth quickly led it to set up as a company and move to the Valley. Around 2008, Max Schrems, an Austrian student realized that the deletion of data he performed on Facebook, in fact, only hid them from himself. The information was still stored in the company's systems. He then started a long litigation, at the end of which he obtained a copy of the set of his information, which was delivered to him, grouped into more than 50 analytical categories. This is where you can see the potential for manipulations that Facebook promoted and against this created the NGO “Europa versus Facebook”, an important element in the process of creating data protection laws.

In 2012, Facebook acquired competitor Instagram (launched in 2010 and bought for $1 billion) and in 2014, WhatsApp (started in 2009) for $19 billion.

The film fails to put all companies in the same basket[ix]. Powerful scenes such as dramatizations of manipulated teenagers, as well as excerpts from the reality that led to the victory of the Brexit and Bolsonaro's election, must be attributed to the specific performance of Facebook and its partnership with Cambridge Analytica.

Nor is the influence that the US government and its agencies exert on corporations in general and technology companies constantly pressured to favor access to backdoors.[X] that go far beyond the issues raised by the film. It is worth remembering the role of new media in the “Arab Spring” (2010) and the denunciations of the use of the system Prism, of illegal espionage, against US citizens and rulers of friendly nations (between almost Brazil and Germany) made by Snowden[xi] (2013)


The monetization that produces marvelous technological advances is the same one that transforms them into instruments of addition, oppression and exploitation. The sinister side of the problem is not technology, but its abusive use for political ends and for the accumulation and concentration of capital.

How will humanity untangle itself from this ball of yarn? that's where the rub is[xii].

*Roberto Regensteiner is a professor and consultant in Management & Information Technology.


The network dilemma (The Social Dilemma)
Documentary, United States, 2020, 89 minutes
Directed by: Jeff Orlowski


[I] Zuboff, Shoshana, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, 692 pages, See review by Arbix and Brandão: and comment by Abramovay: https:/ /

[ii]Without cynicism, it is worth emphasizing the difficulty in developing a critical conscience in an environment of generous remuneration: high salaries, distribution of shares, bonuses and prizes, which generated a crop of young millionaires working in what they liked to do, in workplaces similar to those university campuses with subsidized supply of caffeine and food, not to mention the process of hiding history that European colonizers promoted (both there and here).

[iii] The term is a reference to the excellent text by Eugenio Bucci,,enredaram-a-humanidade,70003450081 in 24 / 9 / 2020.

[iv]“1984 Apple's Macintosh Commercial” in

[v] In

[vi]Super Size Me (film available on Amazon) documents how MacDonalds with its menus and promotions promoted epidemics of obesity and high blood pressure.

[vii] See

[viii] V. “Former Google Exec: 'Don't Be Evil' Motto Is Dead“ in

[ix] Dora Kaufmann is right when she points out “Most criticism of the documentary is directed at social networks, which is not the case with Google” in -social-dilemma-polemica-da-vez.html

[X] Jargon that identifies aspects of computer systems (software and hardware) that may eventually be necessary from a technical point of view, and that also allow access to records and records, therefore, the manipulation of users, if used inappropriately; US federal legislation that gives the State broad powers of intervention in companies that are an important part of the problem.

[xi]It is worth complementing the stories of “Dilemma das Redes” with that presented in the documentary “Citizen Four”, by Laura Poitras, and in the film “Edward Snowden” by Oliver Stone, and comparing the process of awareness through which actors become aware of the problems and bring them to the public, as well as reflect on possible consequences of their action. Snowden is still in exile in Russia. A US campaign is under way for him to receive a presidential pardon.

[xii] From the Houaiss; “Orig.contrv. word, busillis in the sense of 'difficulty, difficult point' has been linked to in diebus illis in the sense of 'in those days' and attributed to the anecdote told since the XNUMXth century, of a student of the ancient Latin classes who, when translating the lat. in diebus illis, understood it as Indiae in the sense of 'the Indies' and got stuck on busillis; in another version, because the letters of the words are somewhat far apart, the examinee read and translated in die busillis in the sense of 'on the day called busillis'; according to Castilho, expr. here is the rub is not from orig. vulgar, constituting a vulgarized literary product.

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