10 episodes

Jamie Bartlett traces the story of how and why social media companies have become the new information gatekeepers, and what the decisions they make mean for all of us.

It's 20 years since Facebook launched and the social media we know today - but it all started with a crazy idea to realise a hippie dream of building a "global consciousness". The plan was to build a connected world, where everyone could access everyone and everything all the time; to overthrow the old gatekeepers and set information free.
But social media didn't turn out that way. Instead of setting information free - a new digital elite conquered the world and turned themselves into the most powerful people on the planet.

Now, they get to decide what billions of us see every day. They can amplify you. They can delete you. Their platforms can be used to coordinate social movements and insurrections. A content moderator thousands of miles away can change your life. What does this mean for democracy - and our shared reality?

It starts in the summer of love, with a home-made book that taught the counter-culture how to build a new civilisation - and accidentally led to the creation of the first social media platform. But a momentous decision in the mid-2000s would turn social media into giant advertising companies - with dramatic ramifications for everyone. To understand how we arrived here, Jamie tracks down the author of a 1996 law which laid the groundwork for web 2.0; interviews the Twitter employees responsible for banning Donald Trump who explain the reality of 'content moderation'; and speaks to Facebook's most infamous whistle-blower in a dusty room in Oxford. He goes in search of people whose lives have been transformed by the decisions taken by these new gatekeepers: a father whose daughter's death was caused by social media, a Nobel prize winning journalist from the Philippines who decided to stand up to a dictator and the son of an Ethiopian professor determined to avenge his father's murder. Far from being over, Jamie discovers that the battle over who controls the world's information has only just begun.

The Gatekeepers BBC Podcasts

    • Technology
    • 4.3 • 23 Ratings

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

Jamie Bartlett traces the story of how and why social media companies have become the new information gatekeepers, and what the decisions they make mean for all of us.

It's 20 years since Facebook launched and the social media we know today - but it all started with a crazy idea to realise a hippie dream of building a "global consciousness". The plan was to build a connected world, where everyone could access everyone and everything all the time; to overthrow the old gatekeepers and set information free.
But social media didn't turn out that way. Instead of setting information free - a new digital elite conquered the world and turned themselves into the most powerful people on the planet.

Now, they get to decide what billions of us see every day. They can amplify you. They can delete you. Their platforms can be used to coordinate social movements and insurrections. A content moderator thousands of miles away can change your life. What does this mean for democracy - and our shared reality?

It starts in the summer of love, with a home-made book that taught the counter-culture how to build a new civilisation - and accidentally led to the creation of the first social media platform. But a momentous decision in the mid-2000s would turn social media into giant advertising companies - with dramatic ramifications for everyone. To understand how we arrived here, Jamie tracks down the author of a 1996 law which laid the groundwork for web 2.0; interviews the Twitter employees responsible for banning Donald Trump who explain the reality of 'content moderation'; and speaks to Facebook's most infamous whistle-blower in a dusty room in Oxford. He goes in search of people whose lives have been transformed by the decisions taken by these new gatekeepers: a father whose daughter's death was caused by social media, a Nobel prize winning journalist from the Philippines who decided to stand up to a dictator and the son of an Ethiopian professor determined to avenge his father's murder. Far from being over, Jamie discovers that the battle over who controls the world's information has only just begun.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    Introducing The Gatekeepers

    Introducing The Gatekeepers

    It all started with a crazy idea to realise a hippie dream of building a “global consciousness”. The plan was to build a connected world, where everyone could access everyone and everything all the time; to overthrow the old gatekeepers and set information free.
    But social media didn’t turn out that way. Instead of setting information free – a new digital elite conquered the world and turned themselves into the most powerful people on the planet.
    Now, they get to decide what billions of us see every day. They can amplify you. They can delete you. Their platforms can be used to coordinate social movements and insurrections. A content moderator thousands of miles away can change your life. What does this mean for democracy – and our shared reality?
    Jamie Bartlett traces the story of how and why social media have become the new information gatekeepers, and what the decisions they make mean for all of us.

    • 3 min
    1. We Are as Gods

    1. We Are as Gods

    For years something strange has been happening online, but most of us have no idea what’s really going on.
    Ethnic conflict in Myanmar. A chemistry professor is killed in Ethiopia. A teenager dies in her bedroom in London. A mob storms the Capitol in Washington DC.
    And that’s the moment that catches Jamie Bartlett’s eye. A few days after the riot, on January 9th 2021, the outgoing leader of the United States is suspended on social media. First Twitter, (renamed X), and then Facebook. A President silenced. It’s a glimpse behind the curtain. For the first time millions of us can see the power of technology companies.
    They can delete you. They can amplify you. They can change your life. Social media has conquered the world.
    Jamie Bartlett follows the roots of this story back to San Francisco : the home of Big Tech, where he meets one of the early pioneers of social media who tells him about a strange hand bound book, passed around hippy communes in the summer of love, and how it turned the world upside down.
    Archive Credits: Wolf of Wall Street, Paramount Pictures; Telecommunications Bill sign in, C-Span 1996; Bloomberg's TicTic 2019; Fox News 2020
    Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
    Producer: Caitlin Smith
    Sound Design: Eloise Whitmore
    Music: Jeremy Warmsley
    Story Consultant: Kirsty Williams
    Researchers: Rachael Fulton, Elizabeth Ann Duffy and Juliet Conway
    Executive Producer: Peter McManus
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke.
    A BBC Scotland Production for BBC Radio 4
    New episodes released on Mondays. If you’re in the UK, listen to the latest episodes of The Gatekeepers, first on BBC Sounds: bbc.in/3Ui661u

    • 29 min
    2. Blitzscaling

    2. Blitzscaling

    From the rubble of the dot com crash, an ambitious young Harvard student with a passion for hacking and love of Roman emperors, sets up an exciting new website.
    Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is an instant hit on college campuses.
    Soon it attracts the attention of Silicon Valley’s most successful - but controversial - venture capitalist, Peter Thiel.
    The company starts to scale up. But there’s one problem - how is it going to make money?
    Producer: Caitlin Smith
    Researchers: Rachael Fulton, Elizabeth Ann Duffy and Juliet Conway
    Executive Producer: Peter McManus
    Sound Design: Eloise Whitmore
    Music: Jeremy Warmsley
    Story Consultant: Kirsty Williams
    Commissioning editor: Dan Clarke
    A BBC Scotland Production for BBC Radio 4
    Archive: Bloomberg Quicktake, October 2019; C-Span, Telecommunications Bill signing, Feb 1996; Hoover Institute, Decemeber 2009; Startup Academy, March 2018; Makers, December 2012;
    New episodes released on Mondays. If you’re in the UK, listen to the latest episodes of The Gatekeepers, first on BBC Sounds: bbc.in/3Ui661u

    • 29 min
    3. Are You Not Engaged?

    3. Are You Not Engaged?

    The tech pioneers were right: all this connectivity and sharing is creating a new age of freedom and democracy. A global consciousness.
    Arab Spring, Barack Obama – both fuelled by social media - make the possibilities feel limitless.
    But, just as the dream to connect everyone is being realised - at the height of technological optimism - everything starts to fall apart.
    Producer: Caitlin Smith
    Sound Designer: Eloise Whitmore
    Mix: Gav Murchie
    Composer: Jeremy Warmsley
    Story Consultant: Kirsty Williams
    Executive Producer: Peter McManus + Heather Kane-Darling
    Research: Rachael Fulton, Elizabeth Ann Duffy and Juliet Conway
    Commissioned by Dan Clarke
    Archive: C-NET Jan 2007; The Obama White House Archive, April 2011; C-Span, December 2008; C-Span 1996.
    New episodes released on Mondays. If you’re in the UK, listen to the latest episodes of The Gatekeepers, first on BBC Sounds: bbc.in/3Ui661u

    • 28 min
    4. Flood the Zone

    4. Flood the Zone

    2016 is a big election year. But something is going very wrong online. Journalists in America and the Philippines start to notice something strange going on online.
    In Manila, Maria Ressa - the editor of online news site, Rappler - discovers a sock puppet network of social media accounts, all pushing for the election of a strong leader. Someone like Rodrigo Duterte. Maria is suspicious. She makes an urgent call to Facebook.
    In Veles, in Macedonia, a young man called 'Marco' starts writing fake articles and posting them online. Very soon they're being read by millions of people around the globe and he's making huge sums of money.
    The online ecosystem is under attack.
    Producer: Caitlin Smith
    Sound design and mix: Eloise Whitmore
    Composer: Jeremy Warmsley
    Exec: Peter McManus
    Researcher: Juliet Conway and Elizabeth Ann Duffy
    Commissioned by Dan Clarke
    Archive: BBC News, AP Archive, Bloomberg Television, CNN
    New episodes released on Mondays. If you’re in the UK, listen to the latest episodes of The Gatekeepers, first on BBC Sounds: bbc.in/3Ui661u

    • 31 min
    5. The Vortex

    5. The Vortex

    One of the strange things about our new media universe, is how innocuous decisions taken in Silicon Valley - turning a dial, or adding a few lines of code to increase engagement - can change your life.
    In 2016, Instagram introduced a new way of looking at content: the non-chronological feed.
    Now, instead of seeing what your friends were posting in the order they were posting it, an algorithm brought you stuff based on search history, likes, and interactions.
    That’s how tech engineers saw things back then - not just at Instagram, but at Pinterest, and other platforms too - if you engage with something, that must mean you want more of it.
    Ian Russell believes that this algorithmic change may have altered the course of his 14 year old daughter Molly's life.
    Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
    Producer: Caitlin Smith
    Sound Design: Eloise Whitmore
    Composer: Jeremy Warmsley
    Story Consultant: Kirsty Williams
    Execuitve Producer: Peter McManus
    Commissioner: Dan Clarke
    A BBC Scotland Production for Radio 4.
    Archive: 'Instagram implements big changes to users' feed, ditches chronologixal content' DT Daily; March 16th 2016. US Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Nov 7th 2023
    If you are suffering distress or despair and need support, including urgent support, a list of organisations that can help is available at bbc.co.uk/actionline.
    New episodes released on Mondays. If you’re in the UK, listen to the latest episodes of The Gatekeepers, first on BBC Sounds: bbc.in/3Ui661u

    • 29 min

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5
23 Ratings

23 Ratings

Jaime_C ,

More please.

What a fabulous podcast. Thank you for highlighting the importance of checking algorithms our kids are seeing. I will be very vigilant when my children enter the phase of having phones etc.
Big tech and the Meta monopoly make me so mad. 😡

JulesMcGooles ,

Makes you wonder

Just who you’re reading when on social media. Slickly produced podcast, I wish the episodes were longer.

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