The series is written and hosted by Ferguson, a bestselling author and host known for nonfiction work like the International Emmy-winning documentary The Ascent of Money.
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Premiering on March 17, the show is inspired by Ferguson’s book, The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. It combines history and network science to chart the demise of early Silicon Valley visions of a connected, utopian world and the onset of an anxiety-provoking blend of fake news, extreme views and manipulation of public opinion in another election year.
With the influence of such digital platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok continuing to grow as ethical and legal questions about them multiply, the show tells the origin story of social networking. Its roots go back several centuries, as it turns out.
From the Reformation and the 17th century witch craze, through the American Revolution and George Orwell’s 1984, Ferguson explores the intersection of social media, technology and the spread of cultural movements. Each one-hour episode features interviews with network theorists, social scientists and data analysts. Interviewees include Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and executive chairman; Antonio Garcia Martinez, author, tech entrepreneur and former Facebook product manager; Stanley McChrystal, former head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq; and Alex Stamos, former head of security at Facebook.
“In order to truly understand the influence and power of social networks, it’s essential to look into the past,” Ferguson said. “The advent of fake news, corporate monopolies and government interference is nothing new. Only by understanding history can we find solutions to the issues facing our new ‘networld’ today like information war and election interference.”
Niall Ferguson’s Networld is a Chimerica Media production in association with Thirteen Productions for WNET. Adrian Pennink is series producer and director. Melanie Fall is executive producer and Ewan Roxburgh is producer.
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