Sunday 04 December 2011

The documentary about the social network.

Stumbled upon a charming holiday video off the BBC’s business journalist Emily Maitlis on the television tonight. She was shown in her stylish casual wear walking around glorious California. How refreshing, I thought, the BBC at last rewarding one of its own by giving her a lovely holiday: rather than vilifying for someone for joking about about union members being executed for having the temerity to strike.

But what was going on? In between shots of Emily strolling around sunkissed California there were videos of various people talking about Facebook. Who in hell’s kettle had edited this outrage. What’s more in between footage of Maitlis staring/nodding sagely were shots of people talking at her about the implications of the meteoritic rise of the aforementioned social network. I didn’t give a ruddy tosh WHO she was looking at or what she NODDING at: why did it matter? Surely it was just some more barbarically edited nonsense getting in the way of more footage of Maitlis sauntering around San Francisco with her thumbs in her jean pockets. Surely.

No. I had been wrong. Checking the TV guide showed me that this was – in fact – a profile of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Wow, time to re-evaluate.

I am being hilarious of course. Largely this was an interesting analysis of the internet phenomenon of the last decade – with an unnecessarily large amount of footage of Emily Maitlis looking at things ponderously thrown in for good measure.

If I was going to quibble about anything else it might be the use of several bits of the film The Social Network to illustrate the back story of Facebook whilst being told by journalist Jessie Hempel that The Social Network had created the problem that it was hard to differentiate between true history and the mythologised version of the film. It would be unfair to say this without adding that Maitlis did highlight certain misleading elements left out of the film: Maitlis did highlight the focus of the film did elide certain undeniable truths that didn’t necessarily make Zuckerberg look good.

When we got past the oft told origin story, the programme certainly offered an interesting analysis of the economic and sociological present and future of Facebook. And we got to see the Facebook office has a vending machine where you can get a keyboard when the one at your desk fucks up. Something tells me Facebook employees don’t wait about 10 minutes for their PCs to get going every morning when they get in to work.

We also got to see Professor Ben Endelman pooh-pooh the power of Facebook as a tool for generating money with some analogy about advertising on the dark side of the moon for aliens. He also had the four largest monitors side-by-side at his office PC that I have ever seen. I struggle to see how people use the second monitor when they have two set up (it’s just showing off when people do that isn’t it?), but with these four behemoths I genuinely don’t believe Endelman uses more than half of one of the screens.

We then got to see how marketing and advertising companies use Facebook. This was pretty interesting in terms of showing just how much information they have about everyone. Maitlis certainly fought the corner of the users in terms of the whole privacy thing. She illuminated how when you ‘like’ something on Facebook that company can use you as part of an advert (Philip Bridgehouse like Coca-Cola might appear on the sidebar of a friend’s Facebook friend). This, she said, is wrong as you aren’t asked if you would be happy for this, she actually said there is no way you can control this. I would suggest that stuff like that is in the small print we all click ‘ok’ to. And more relevantly – don’t like a commercial product on Facebook if you’re worried about it. Why are you doing it?

As well as impressive multinational people using the data to sell products we also got to see a woman who runs Facebook purchases for smaller businesses (that she will have visited at least once – yes AT LEAST once) around her Surrey town. She runs the pages for them – God knows who thinks running such a page for a small business requires a third party and I don’t like to think of how much she is earning. But surely I am just being mean about someone whose job seems ridiculous because she probably earns six times what I do. Yes, yes I am.

There is no doubting this woman’s brilliance – she showed us an example of her recent work; a post she had put on for a cafe a few days earlier “Banana Tenpura Caramel Toffee Ice Cream! Who’s feeling naughty :D”. [No comment on the use of a smiley in place of a question mark from me.] How can that have failed to generate interest in the two days since she had posted it? Well it HAD. The status was liked by 6 people – well 5 if you count that she had liked it herself. And…yes, there’s an ‘and’ of course there is, she probably charged about £200 quid for that update..there were three comments, “sounds yummy. hope I can try in August”, “september for me!!” and “Original”. So this status had two people speculating they might try the product. You can see why she is probably being head-hunted by a big firm as we speak. She really probably is though, she really probably is.

If we wanted more we got to see a man pay a dollar for a giant fictional computer shit in the shape of a duck. THAT is how the 1% have the wealth: they are literally selling pixelated duck-shaped shit to the 99%. Occupy that.

So maybe I was a bit harsh on Maitlis. She did present an expansive analysis of Facebook, and addressed the key issues of privacy and freedom regarding the information people place on the site. It was also a balanced analysis – though at times the ‘cons’ of Facebook were put across somewhat confusingly and sometimes by large, fat, white men with dreadlocks who didn’t really be seem to be saying anything (Facebook is like a form at the doctors or something).

I didn’t say anything about her ears though and how they seemed extremely large. You could argue that this is because it wasn’t really relevant – but you could counter argue that if someone is going to be on screen so much being filmed walking around and shown so much when interviewing people then people might not be able to notice her large ears.

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