Reading list: The Social Dilemma

Audrey Hingle
Ashley Boyd

By Audrey Hingle and Ashley Boyd | Sept. 29, 2020 | Advocacy

two computer users looking at a screen

The Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” has raised important questions about our online lives with a mainstream audience. What is the impact of social media on our mental health, our society — and when paired with misinformation — our institutions of democracy?

Only with more and more of us asking these questions and demanding better from platforms can we bring about the fundamental change we seek. The popularity of “The Social Dilemma” is indicative of how important this conversation is in our current context.

While we encourage people to watch the documentary with a critical eye — and discuss it with friends and family — we also share concerns others have raised. Perspectives need to be included from women and people of color who have been key thought leaders 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 the below list (in no particular order) of researchers, writers and leaders who have been sounding alarm bells for years about how social platforms exacerbate existing inequalities. This list started out as a Twitter thread, and Mozilla staff, allies, friends and followers continue to add to it here.

  1. Algorithms of Oppression - 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. Also read Noble’s Pocket curation.
  2. Race After Technology - Ruha Benjamin Is by 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.
  3. Automating Inequality - Virginia Eubanks Is a study of how public policies in the U.S. are designed to further marginalize people living in poverty. She looks at three case studies in which software or algorithms were used by local governments and their (terrible) effects.
  4. Programmed Inequality - Mar Hicks This book 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.
  5. Behind the Screen - Sarah T. Roberts By UCLA professor of Information Studies. Her book is an eye-opening look at the invisible workers who protect us from seeing the worst of humanity on the internet.
  6. Black Software - Charlton McIlwain Is by the NYU Vice Provost and Media Professor. His book 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.
  7. It's About Damn Time - Arlan Hamilton Is about Hamilton’s journey to becoming a venture capitalist.
  8. Reset - Ellen K. Pao Is by former VC, ex-Reddit and cofounder of Project Include. She is a strong advocate for women in tech, and her book is the story of a whistleblower who aims to empower everyone struggling to be heard.
  9. Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects us and Undermines Democracy - Siva Vaidhyanathan Is a powerful critique of Facebook and an indictment of how "social media" has fostered the deterioration of democratic culture around the world.
  10. Ghost Work - Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri Gray is an anthropologist and author. Suri is a computational social scientist at Microsoft Research AI studying behavioral economics, crowdsourcing, and the gig economy. The two wrote this book about the invisible human workforce that powers the web.
  11. The Web We Have to Save - Hossein Derakhshan Is a personal account of what the internet looks like to someone who spent the past six years in prison for blogging.