Whether you are talking to friends and family, or reading news stories about the media giant, it seems no one has anything critical to say about Netflix. But is that a healthy thing? In a recent story for the Huffington Post, writer Todd Van Luling suggests it’s not.
Any damning criticism fails to stick. And when a controversy does happen, it’s not like we’re all just going to quit Netflix. The service has become a bona fide daily habit across the globe. Collectively, subscribers reportedly stream around 140 million hours of video a day. We’re not leaving anytime soon. All we can do is hope to reshape it into something that serves us better.
Luling then goes on to discuss Netflix CEO Reid Hastings’ troubling response to a question posed by the PTC during the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting earlier this year. When asked why the company proceeded with a second season of 13 Reasons Why, in light of serious concerns about suicide contagion, Hastings said, “13 Reasons Why has been enormously popular and successful. It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it.”
That quote sums of what appears to be the company’s ethos and the root of my growing problem. Regardless of whether a choice is problematic, as long as it’s popular ― as long as it makes the company more money ― then Netflix will go through with it.
The PTC has been sounding the alarm on Netflix since the debut of 13 Reasons Why; and those concerns have only been compounded by the addition of programs like Insatiable, Big Mouth, and Desire to the line-up.
(see related post: Netflix and Facebook Partner to Take Sexualization of Children to a New Low)
More troubling still are the challenges Netflix presents for parents. There are effectively no content restrictions (no advertisers they need to worry about offending and they are not governed by existing indecency laws), so pretty much anything goes: from graphic sex and nudity, to every form of profanity you can imagine, to extreme violence and gore. The only thing standing in the way of children and this content is a four-digit pin (assuming parents even know to turn on the parental controls). And because so many children have smart phones or tablets, much of this content can be streamed over mobile devices outside of the purview of parents.
Like Facebook, Luling suggests, Netflix uses algorithms to push problematic content out to an unprecedentedly large audience; which most viewers just accept without even thinking about it, and even if some viewers are troubled by Netflix’s programming choices, there’s enough of the content they love there to keep them from abandoning the platform completely.
Netflix pushes content based on whether the company’s algorithm thinks it will make us click and not necessarily whether that content will be good or bad for us. With autoplaying trailers on the homepage, we have even less of a choice in whether we consume what Netflix gives us.
This company has immense power. With that power, Netflix has already made troubling missteps. And if that won’t make you quit your subscription, it should at least put some actual chill in your bones.
Indeed, it should.