What Facebook Knows About You review – start panicking now!

The BBC’s latest Panorama asks whether it’s time to regulate Mark Zuckerberg’s cultish dotcom. Plus, laddish app comedy Loaded soars when the women join in

Thirty-two million people in the UK have a Facebook account and globally that figure is closer to 2 billion. Likes, political affiliations, favourite bands: all of that data sloshes around in a big, unregulated tank for the advertising sharks to guzzle. No wonder Panorama: What Facebook Knows About You (And What it Does With Your Information (BBC1) is asking the question: is it time to regulate Facebook?

As is often the case with the half-hour documentary format, we barely scratch the surface of the who and how here. Reporter Darragh MacIntyre could have done with more time to sum up his research and extensive US interviews. But I get the feeling even a six-part series wouldn’t be enough.

His only direct interface with Mark Zuckerberg’s tech behemoth is a flatly uncommunicative man called Simon Milner, Facebook’s policy director, who sticks to the script even when challenged on the profit the site makes from hosting fake news stories. He repeats that he takes the issue very seriously, very seriously, very seriously until sparks fly from his ears and he has to temporarily power-down.

A representative for the Republican party in the US openly admits that the social media spend during the Trump election campaign was around $70m (£54m) and that Facebook specifically played a decisive role in the election’s outcome. Milner is right, this is serious.

The most tantalising interview MacIntyre gets is with former employee Antonio Garcia-Martinez; once a shining light at the company, he left after “a disagreement” and now lives in the middle of a forest, chopping wood, far from the hum of Silicon Valley. He describes Facebook as a kind of “cult” and calls Zuckerberg the “prophet of that religion”. There’s nothing juicier than an embittered ex-employee interview, but MacIntyre doesn’t delve deeper here, which again feels like an issue of time rather than editorial judgement. I’d have liked a whole programme dedicated to Martinez.

“I can see a future where we’re too scared to leave Facebook because it’s got all our data,” says Chi Onwurah, Ofcom’s former head of technology. This intriguing investigation describes Facebook less as a handy communication tool and more like Scientology but leaves me with the uneasy feeling that the iceberg is down there and bigger than any of us know. Start panicking now.

A different kind of dotcom hysteria hits the characters in Loaded (Channel 4) a new comedy/drama about four friends suddenly joining the millionaires’ club after the sale of their novelty app, Cat Factory, to an American mega-corp. It is a remake of an Israeli show called Mesudarim, from almost a decade ago, and the pedigree of this UK version is impressive.

Jon Brown, former Veep and Fresh Meat writer, sits at the keyboard and his cast features Jim Howick, Peep Show’s beleaguered Gerard, Nick Helm from BBC Three’s Uncle and Aimee-Ffion Edwards from the sainted Detectorists on BBC4.

While the antics of the first episode are laddish – they send a barber’s shop quartet to croon a harmonious “Fuck yoooooou” to former doubters who refused them funding – the lines are as smart as you’d expect from Brown. “No winging it, you’re flightless birds,” warns Josh (Howick) as he leaves his clueless friends to sort out a legal mess that threatens to bring down the company. “Two words,” says Leon (Samuel Anderson), fully embracing his new wealth, “Matching. Hovercrafts.”

He later helicopters into his old school, uninvited, to dangle his success in the face of a formerly disparaging teacher. I’m looking forward to his character attaining more depth as the series goes on. Jonny Sweet, who was so brilliant in Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s Babylon, plays the slight fourth man and runt of this litter, self-effacing to the point of not being there.

He gives a pretty female employee a huge bonus just to prove he actually works there when she admits she doesn’t recognise him.

The show really takes flight when the women join in. Edwards plays a former flame of Howick’s character and early indications suggest that subplot will provide the beating heart. They are two actors I would watch recite text messages to each other and the chemistry works perfectly.

While the other boys muck about on mini-motorbikes in their huge mansion like modern-day Monkees, their new US boss arrives, played by Mary McCormack, who tells them to think of her as a “sexy Darth Vader” before pouring champagne and then instructing them that they don’t have time to drink it. Her always-perky-in-the-face-of-doom assistant is played by standup Lolly Adefope, who I also hope to see more of.

It doesn’t yet have the easy swagger of Silicon Valley (comparisons are inevitable), but that’s because we don’t know them well enough. By episode two (showing next week) I was jumping into their world like a toddler into a ball pool. It’s going to be fun. Tell your Facebook friends.


Julia Raeside

The GuardianTramp

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