The Social Dilemma: Advertising, Privacy, and Distraction

Online Advertising


Wissam Sabbagh

3 years ago | 3 min read

After watching The Social Dilemma, and while I do not fully agree with a black / white approach on such a topic, so I have decided to share my personal opinion.

I have always been a long term advocate of social media with it’s positive impact on shortening distances, connecting people , and creating business opportunities on some platforms.

In 2010, I built along with some of my team members one of the first social media listening tools in the region which I exited later on due to personal beliefs following my understanding of what the business model is behind this breakthrough of connecting the world together on an open digital platform and it’s evident evolution into a hub for personal information with a never ending race for popularity and continuous recognition.

Years later, the obvious happened and suddenly what first started as a platform for connecting people with loved ones became a smart and connected auction for selling users’ attention to the highest bidder.

In other words, bombarding users with Ads and Content that the platform would believe would be relevant to them at this point in time, and in their current state of mind, mostly in moments where they are vulnerable to certain digital triggers.

It is no longer a secret that whatever we do online through posting, engaging, browsing, or simply surfing is delivering a massive flow of data acting as a training data set teaching thousands of super computers with powerful AI Capabilities to better understand who we are , what entices us, what captures our attention, and what content would trigger certain emotions or exploit our vulnerabilities.

This approach allowed these platforms to create a business model out of selling users' attention for profit. Basically to finance their infrastructure, operation, and shareholders' interests. This then evolved into the capability to drive opinion change and fuel extremism, polarization, and anger in many places around the world. In this article, I will be highlighting my opinion on different topics below.

Online Advertising:

Advertising Online today has become invasive, and I personally believe it is no longer efficient. I believe that real product success in the future will be based on powerful story telling experiences that portray authenticity rather than exposure, of course when you have a good product / service to start with.

Influencer Advertising has also been abused and Influencers have a major role today in determining how to steer this new advertising vehicle into something more responsible if they would want it to survive. I have personally met several online celebrities / influencers and trust me their real lives are nowhere as glamorous and shiny as their online feeds.

A lot of platforms and publishers are already exploring different revenue streams based on genuine brand content placement or subscription / pay per view models away from invasive advertising. Content to Commerce is another one of those models.


This is a subjective matter. What you share online is your call, however i am a strong believer that people who genuinely live rich, fulfilled, and happy lives should not seek online recognition that they are living happy lives.

Happiness comes from within. While I am present on most social platforms, I do not share any personal activity or content about my private life online and I always surf the internet incognito.

The way you act online, whether through sharing content, or simply browsing content is contributing to an enhanced understanding on how your attention as a user is packaged inside a matrix of tags and parameters to be made available to the next bidder.


Every successful endeavor, relationship, or project requires a substantial amount of commitment, creativity, focus, and attention to succeed.

It has become a challenge to zone out for an hour without the urge to be distracted with a notification, news, an advertisement, a friend interaction, etc... and truly focus on things that really matter, or experiences that would fulfill you on a deeper level and allow you to achieve greater things.

In fact, by simply checking your average screen time, you would be surprised of how much time you actually spend locked to your smart phone.

Try waking up early while the world is still sleeping and grab a book, read a magazine, or simply work on a presentation. After few minutes, you will automatically enter a truly immersive flow state that allows you to achieve maximum productivity and creativity. You will instantly feel the difference!

The Social Dilemma

While most of the facts are correct and eye opening, I still believe that social media has contributed to making the world smaller and helped connect us with loved ones thousands of miles away, yet this vehicle has been intentionally exploited by its creators to drive profits on the expense of its users.

The billions of dollars spent on ad serving, user data collection, and behavioral targeting should have been spent on building algorithms that can flag fake content that encourages polarization and promotes hate, it should have been spent on promoting real connection through dialogue and promoting similarities instead of differences, and most importantly on respecting users' privacy and information.

Also published on LinkedIn Pulse.


Created by

Wissam Sabbagh







Related Articles