The British television series, Black Mirror, has released it’s 5th season. While the entire series explores techno-paranoia, Smithereens hits a little closer to home as it exposes several troubling themes as they relate to social media.
In short, the story is about a man who acquires a fake ride-share driver account and posts outside of a major social media company until he scores a rider who works for the organization. He then leverages a kidnapping to gain access to the company’s creator, Billy Bauer.
The first thing that becomes blatantly clear is that social media platforms are collecting obscene amounts of data on its users. Throughout the show, the COO of the tech company along with a legal representative and an analyst identify and create a profile of the perpetrator much faster than the authorities. By looking into his social profile, they were able to ascertain information about his personal history and devise a strategy to effectively communicate with him that rendered the police’s negotiator and the FBI useless.
Add to this, the tech company was able to tap into the perp’s mobile device and listen to conversation on his end. In the very least, this encroaches on privacy but it also highlights the lack of internet regulation, social networks specifically.
Some fans have coined the episode as a PSA warning against texting while driving however this summation could be a bit simplistic. Social applications are addictive by design. Billy references a department within the organization which exists solely to optimize the platform to hit “dopamine targets” that facilitate engagement. Smithereen, the fictitious social platform, evolved into a “crack pipe”.
Media convergence makes it almost impossible to disconnect. The main character in Smithereen tried to log off completely. However, when the stakes were raised, he turned to his mobile device; he relied on the speed at which social platforms circulates news to gain information and make sense of his surroundings. In fact, nearly all of the developments within the story were caused by or a result of social media.