TV review: Horizon: Inside the Social Network, Britain’s Brexit Crisis, and Year of the Rabbit

26 July 2019

BBC/James Newton

Facebook’s head of global communications, Jonny Oser, at the company’s London HQ, in Horizon: Inside the Social Network: Facebook’s difficult year (BBC2, Tuesday of last week)

Facebook’s head of global communications, Jonny Oser, at the company’s London HQ, in Horizon: Inside the Social Network: Facebook’s ...

IT IS enough to make you believe in Original Sin. Clean-cut all-American boys invent a brilliant scheme harnessing the brand-new power of personal electronic media to knit us all together in a joyful family. The only accusation that one might level is that, basically, they hoped that it would be a smart new way to meet girls.

As Horizon: Inside the Social Network: Facebook’s difficult year (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) made clear, however, these benefits have been overshadowed by truly awful consequences. What they ignored was the sad fact that far too many people are out to cause trouble, finding it the ideal platform to spread lies, hatred, fake news, and to subvert democracy.

The Facebook team, encouraged to act like children in their toy-filled workplaces, are inspired by an almost puppyish commitment to the goal of connecting everybody in the world (so far, only 2.3 billion have signed up). Because to be connected is, obviously, a good thing.

I found the programme a personal indictment, skewering the countless sermons and address I have delivered based on unexamined platitude and unfounded optimism. For, of course, the forces of evil — tyrants, oligarchs, criminals — cannot believe that such a mass market has been served up on a plate for them.

There is such a thing as culpable innocence. Facebook says that it is working flat out to clean up, stopping criminal material reaching its platform, but they know, deep down, that it cannot be done. Mark Zuckerberg has finally called for government regulations to police social media. At the end of the day, only the highest power can sort out the mess. Why does that sound familiar?

We do not have to travel to California’s sun-drenched paradise to uncover a monumental dog’s dinner. Britain’s Brexit Crisis (BBC1, Thursday of last week) demonstrated our nation’s world leadership in this particular competition. You must allow for the fact that I agree with the unstated opinion of the presenter, Nick Robinson, on the matter: but he and I would say that the verifiable material he showed — an admirably concise account since the election of poor Theresa May — admits of no other honest conclusion.

We are deliberately spurning close friends for entirely illusory benefits: a self-inflicted national disaster which, as always, will hit hardest the poorest and least able to manage. Chaos, threats, vetos, refusal to face uncomfortable facts — how eagerly we clear the way for the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.

In our time of crisis, only the very shallow would find relief in Year of the Rabbit (Channel 4, Monday of last week), a farrago of nonsense subverting every convention of East End 19th-century detective drama, built around Matt Berry’s sublime incompetence. I loved it.

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