NEW YORK – The three-part documentary series, Niall Ferguson’s Networld, premieres March 17 on PBS, and provides unique insights from history into the viral spread of ideas and how social media’s technology is a battlefield of the future. Greek-American computer scientist Alex Stamos, former head of security at Facebook and now an adjunct professor at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation is among those sharing their insights on the program.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok… social networking platforms continue to grow, connecting people and spreading information instantly on a global level. Early Silicon Valley idealism of creating a connected world has faded. Today, these platforms are a source of anxiety – with fake news and extreme views on social media networks, the manipulation of public opinion in another election year, data security breaches, and information wars all causing alarm.
Historian and author Niall Ferguson (International Emmy-winner for The Ascent of Money) explains why that should not have surprised us in the new three-part documentary series Niall Ferguson’s Networld, premiering Tuesday, March 17, 8-11 PM on PBS (check local listings). He explores the centuries-old origin story of social networking and argues that understanding the networks of the past can provide insight into what is happening today and what may happen in the future.
Inspired by his bestselling book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (Penguin Books), Ferguson combines history and network science to demonstrate how changes in technology can dramatically increase the power of social networks relative to established hierarchies.
From the Reformation and the 17th-century witch craze, through the American Revolution and the nightmare visions of George Orwell’s 1984, Ferguson explores the intersection of social media, technology and the spread of cultural movements. In each of the one-hour episodes, he unpacks how social networks operate through conversations with network theorists, social scientists and data analysts and historical examples, such as the commonalities between railroad and telegraph titan Jay Gould, publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Interviewees include Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and executive chairman; Antonio Garcia Martinez, The New York Times bestselling author, tech entrepreneur and former Facebook product manager; Stanley McChrystal, former head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq; Greek-American Alex Stamos, former head of security at Facebook; and many more.
“In order to truly understand the influence and power of social networks, it’s essential to look into the past,” said Ferguson. “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.”
“With his latest PBS series, Niall Ferguson’s astute and original analysis provides fascinating and original context for today’s tech-dominated world and the geopolitical risks that culture and technology can create,” said Stephen Segaller, executive-in-charge for WNET, whose past series include Women, War and Peace; Wide Angle; Shakespeare Uncovered; Dead Reckoning and all Ferguson’s previous PBS series. “WNET and PBS have a longstanding commitment to history and technology programming, providing context and educating viewers through stories about prior eras, new trends and innovations, and their effect on culture, politics and society.” Twenty years ago, Segaller produced the ground-breaking classic series on computer and internet history, Triumph of the Nerds and Nerds 2.0.1.
More information about Niall Ferguson’s Networld is available online: pbs.org/networld and the PBS Video app.