Charlie Brooker: 'If you’re just going to let it run unfettered, that is on you'
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker weighed in on the topic of social networks stepping up their efforts to eliminate controversial users and content.
In the wake the sci-fi anthology drama returning to Netflix for its fifth season, EW asked the Emmy-winning writer-producer about the so-called “deplatforming” issue as one of his show’s new episodes examines the ethical obligations of a Twitter-like social media company.
The episode, titled “Smithereens,” includes a tech mogul character (Topher Grace) faced with a moral dilemma. The character is interrupted while on a silent retreat, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s much-mocked 2018 vacation.
“I did zero research on who the heads of these companies are,” Brooker notes of the inspiration for this particular episode. “I thought if I read up too much I’m going to worry I’m not going to get it right so I’ll just invent somebody different. However, [part of the character] did stem from Jack Dorsey — in 2018 around the holidays, he tweeted, “I’ve just been on a 10-day silent retreat” or something like that. And immediately his timeline was full of people saying, “Ahhhhh! This platform is overrun by Nazis! What are you doing?!” And I thought there was irony in him taking himself off [his own platform]. Fair enough, good for him. I thought that shows he’s a contemplative guy.”
Asked if social platforms should be open or if owners should take more steps to moderate content, Brooker replied “I don’t have a simple answer for that,” but then gamely attempted to offer a more detailed answer.
“Platforms as they exist — and this goes for YouTube as well — reward extremity and performance,” Brooker says. “And extremity and performance are entertaining. But grandstanding is not useful in terms of debate and social cohesion. Presumably, we’re in a transitional phase we’re moving through as we all together learn how these things work. But in terms of deplatforming, I don’t know. It’s a network, you own the network, what do you want on your network? Do you want that stuff on your network? If you’re just going to let it run unfettered, that is on you. So that’s for them to decide.”
Black Mirror is often ahead of the curve when it comes to conversations about technology, but in this case, the latest episodes seem rather perfectly timed. On Wednesday, hours after the new season premiered, YouTube, owned by Google, announced it would ban “hateful” videos, including content that promotes racism and discrimination as well as videos denying well-documented violent events, such as the Holocaust and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.
YouTube expects to shut down thousands of channels, but the company did not name specific ones. This comes a month after Facebook barred seven controversial users, including Infowars’ founder Alex Jones, who was also permanently suspended from Twitter last year. While the companies have come under scrutiny for taking so long to combat such content, they’ve also been criticized by those who think the platforms censor conservative opinions and violate the First Amendment.
“You’ve got a responsibility to grow the company and to your shareholders,” Brooker adds. “But you also have an ethical responsibility. And that’s the debate that is going on in the tech world at the moment and will continue to do so. I hope we’ve got that right [in the episode]. It will be interesting to see what Jack Dorsey makes of it.”
For more on season 5, read our full (spoiler-filled) postmortem interviews with Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones breaking down “Striking Vipers,” “Smithereens,” and “Rachel, Jack and Ashley, Too.” Plus see our updated Black Mirror episodes ranked gallery, which now includes season 5.