The documentary The Social Dilemma brought some serious and valid concerns about the impact of social media platforms to a broad Netflix audience, notably the impact of social media on society, mental health, and the viral spread of misinformation. Building a movement of internet users who understand social media’s impact and who demand better from platforms is the only way we’ll bring about the fundamental change we seek. The making, release and popularity of The Social Dilemma represents a major milestone towards this goal.
Despite how effectively the film has communicated important issues to a mainstream audience, people should watch The Social Dilemma with a critical eye, and discuss it with their friends and family. At Mozilla, which works toward ensuring a free and open internet for all, we also share the concerns others have raised about important perspectives missing, including insights from women and people of color who have been important voices on these topics. We look forward to working with the filmmakers to keep this more inclusive conversation going, because we share a similar goal of making the internet healthier for all.
If you want to engage more deeply in these topics, we urge you to take time to read and learn from researchers, writers, and leaders who have been sounding alarm bells for years about how social platforms exacerbate existing inequalities, and to share these viewpoints with your friends and family as well.
Below are a host of books (and one long article) to read, recommended by Mozilla’s staff and online followers.
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, Safiya Umoja Noble
This book focuses on the biases against women of color that are embedded in social platforms and search engine algorithms, and their impact on society. Noble is an associate professor at UCLA, and a visiting faculty member to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. For more, check out her Pocket curation, which includes must-read journalism on similar topics.
Benjamin is an Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton and founder of JUST DATA Lab. Her book looks at how tech was designed to marginalize and disenfranchise Black people, with ways we can use speculative design to imagine and build abolitionist tech.
This book is a study of how public policies in the U.S. are designed to further marginalize people living in poverty. Eubanks, an Associate Professor of Political Science at SUNY-Albany, looks at three case studies in which software or algorithms were used by local governments and their (terrible) effects.
This book, by a historian of technology and gender, looks at the early generation of female programmers in Britain, and how they were pushed out of computing jobs after WWII because they were women.
Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media, Sarah T. Roberts
By a UCLA professor of information studies, this book is an eye-opening look at the invisible workers who protect us from seeing the worst of humanity on the internet.
Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter, Charlton D. McIlwain
This book, by a media professor and Vice Provost at NYU, tells the story of the online racial justice movement spanning nearly five decades and involving a varied group of engineers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, journalists, and activists.
An inspiring read about building a venture capital fund and defying the traditional Silicon Valley’s club of venture capitalists, It’s About Damn Time was written by the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, a fund dedicated solely on helping people of color, women, and/or LGBT folks.
Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, Ellen K. Pao
Pao is most known for her gender discrimination lawsuit against VC firm Kleiner Perkins. Her book is the story of a whistleblower who aims to empower everyone struggling to be heard. A strong advocate for women in tech, Pao served as the CEO of Reddit and is the cofounder of Project Include.
Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, Siva Vaidhyanathan
Vaidhyanathan’s book is a powerful critique of Facebook and an indictment of how social media has fostered the deterioration of democratic culture around the world. Vaidhyanathan is a cultural historian and media scholar and is a professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia.
Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass, Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri
Gray, an anthropologist and author, and Suri, a computational social scientist at Microsoft Research AI studying behavioral economics, crowdsourcing, and the gig economy, teamed up to write Ghost Work, about the invisible human workforce that powers the web.
The Web We Have to Save, Hossein Derakhshan
This last recommendation is a long personal essay documenting what the internet looks like to someone who spent the past six years in prison for blogging. Derakhshan’s story details how quickly the internet has changed in just a few years, and why the decentralized web, which can provide an outlet for free expression and community building, is worth fighting for.
Ashley Boyd is VP, Advocacy at Mozilla. Audrey Hingle is Social Media Specialist at Mozilla.