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Inside the Social Network: Facebook's Difficult Year, BBC Two review - how big can it get? | reviews, news & interviews

Inside the Social Network: Facebook's Difficult Year, BBC Two review - how big can it get?

Inside the Social Network: Facebook's Difficult Year, BBC Two review - how big can it get?

A force for good or Big Brother in the making?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Not everybody is on Facebook, yet. So far, Mark Zuckerberg’s social media monolith has only managed to scrape together about 2.3 billion users, roughly one-third of the planet. But as this fascinating documentary revealed, Facebook’s plans are huge and its ambitions boundless.

The title alluded to recent problems at Facebook, including the massive 2018 data breach in which the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica acquired information from 87 million Facebook users, and its struggles against online hate crime. These crises temporarily knocked 20 per cent off Facebook’s share price, and raised thorny issues about online security, the ethics of storing such colossal amounts of personal information, and the way Facebook operates beyond political and geographical boundaries.

The film was made by the BBC’s Horizon strand, and took a particular interest in Facebook’s technical achievements. For instance, we were introduced to Yann, a Paris-based expert in artificial intelligence. He trains Facebook’s computers to read online posts, examine their context and interpret potentially poisonous messages. Computers are also learning to “read” people’s body language from video footage, so they could censor online postings without input from a human operator.

The company is now reaching its tentacles into areas previously considered the province of governments. In London, another Facebook unit battles online crime, from financial scams and blackmail to human trafficking. Technicians are ceaselessly trying to stay in front of cyber-attacks and bogus accounts which can change their name and gender to avoid detection. Facebook has a “centre for global security”, assisting law enforcement agencies. It’s rolling out satellite wifi to promote health and agriculture in the world’s remotest regions. In India, Facebook’s “blood donation hub” enables blood donors to give much-needed blood wherever it’s needed. Of course, to participate you must have a Facebook account.

It’s incredible, but could it become a Big Brother-ish nightmare? Kyle, billed as “Director of Product”, explained how the company’s objective is to “do good in the world”, with making money just “a secondary thing” (which is hard to take seriously when Facebook is worth half a trillion dollars). Hema, Director of Social Good, wants to “give power to the community to build a better world.” But what if, for instance, the blood donation initiative could be exploited on the black market? “Are we going to stop doing good because there’s a little bad in the world?” replied Hema, beatifically.

Yet Facebook’s relentless march into all spheres of activity makes it not only ubiquitous, but ultimately perhaps indispensable. The company’s messianic visions for its future expansion and insistence on staff endorsing the collective Facebook ethos have prompted some employees to liken it to a cult. None of them were in this programme, though.

The company is now reaching its tentacles into areas previously considered the province of governments

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