Capture: who's looking after the children? | FT Film
An FT drama starring Jodie Whittaker (Dr Who), Paul Ready (Motherland), Shaniqua Okwok (It's a Sin), looks at online harm, regulation and responsibility. The search for their missing son leads a mother and father to a tech company, and a digital gatekeeper who seems to have all the answers.
Written by Nina Segal. Directed by Juliet Riddell. Edited by Tom Hannen. Director of Photography Franklin Dow. Score by Tristan Cassel-Delavois.
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In here. Dinner's almost ready.
Isn't he with you?
He isn't home? He should be home.
Yeah, I know. I thought he was with you.
Why would he be with me?
Because he isn't at home.
He didn't text.
No, not me. You?
No? Call him.
I am. And his phone.
Then call the school.
I'm calling the school. Did he have a thing, an engagement?
He's a kid. He doesn't have engagement.
Hi it's Frankie Monk's mum. Is he there? Well, he isn't back yet and... permission? What permission? He said you gave permission.
Why would you give permission?
Yes, you did. You signed, they said.
I didn't. All right, maybe I did. But you do, don't you? You just sign. You don't read. You just click the button, give permission. I mean, you don't imagine...
That they'd take our son?
Take him. Where?
They didn't say.
They wouldn't say.
Well, there must be someone else we can talk to at the school, the head.
They said it's not their responsibility, once you give permission to a private company.
Nobody told me not to.
You're an adult!
And he's a child, a school child. Surely it's their job to protect him.
Isn't it yours?
You're right. I'm his dad, and he is, I don't know where. So I should call the police. I should. Shouldn't I? I should call the police.
No, you should have your dinner and finish your wine?
Oh, you think?
No. Call the police!
Hello, police, please. Yeah, my son is missing. He never came home from school. And... yeah. Yeah, I'll hold.
Shut up. I'm dealing with this. Oh, yes? Yes, my son's name is Frankie, Frank Monk, M-O-N-K. Date of birth, 5th of February 2009.
13. Tell them he's 13.
I just gave them the date.
He's 13. He's barely slept away. With family, close friends, the odd sleepover...
Why are you mentioning sleepovers?
Don't tell me how to handle this when this is your fault.
It's not my fault.
This is his father's fault. He signed. He gave permission. Private company, yes. What? They said they can't help us, that there's nothing they can do.
Nothing? But they're the police.
And they're a private company, and we need to take it up with them.
OK. OK, fine. Let's take it up with them.
I don't think it's appropriate to keep the parent of a missing child on hold.
I thought you liked being on hold.
It's not all my fault. You know? I'm sure I'm not the only parent who gave permission.
You're not. I searched the company. I had to dig. But look. It's not just Frankie. It's not just us. Hundreds and thousands of families with missing children for an hour, a day, a week, a year.
Oh, well, that makes me feel better.
Why would that make you feel better?
Because I'm not the only parent who gave...
Oh, yeah, it's about my son Frank Monk, M-O-N-- automated.
Service, say "option one."
What's option one?
If I've got an issue with the service.
Speak to a representative. I want to speak to a representative!
Where are you going?
To speak to a representative.
This is ridiculous. It's the head office. It's night time. What are you going to do... barge in there and demand they find Frankie? They won't know who the hell he is.
I'll tell them he's my kid.
Our son is missing. His name is Frankie Monk. And I believe you and your company are responsible. And not just for Frankie, other kids. And not just kids, you're responsible for all kinds of harm, alienation, polarisation, genocide.
I could go on if you like, or you could let us through and we can find our son.
Can I get you anything... a tea, coffee, sparkling water?
Oh, I'll have a sparkling water, please.
Our son is missing.
Just regular water, then. Thanks.
So remind me of his name, your son.
Frank Monk. He's 13 years old.
Oh, that's a lovely name. One moment while I search our database.
It's a private database. The search has bought up multiple matches, which is not unusual when you're as popular as we are to encounter duplicate data points.
Our son's not a data point.
Oh, no. He's so much more than that, I'm sure. Tell me, are any of these your son?
Yeah. Yeah, that's Frankie there. Why have you got a picture of his bedroom?
It's actually a live feed. So your son's not missing. Hurrah.
He's been home the whole time.
You didn't check upstairs?
I didn't. We...
Were rushing, busy? Distracted?
I was at home. I would have heard him.
You were listening to a podcast about the future of technology.
How did you know that? Why have you got a live feed of our son?
The main thing is he's safe.
And entertained. Right now, he's speaking to Pavel on Discord.
What's Discord? Who's Pavel? Are you spying on our son?
We prefer to think of it like childcare, not intended to replace existing caregivers, but to supplement. Because we understand you're busy. Modern life is busy.
We're not too busy to care for our child.
Too busy to correctly read a form because you did give consent.
I did not consent to this.
You seem to be under the impression that we're harming Charlie.
Frankie in some way.
Yeah, that's my great impression. Yeah.
OK. Well perhaps you'd feel reassured by speaking to him.
Dad? Why are you calling me? I thought you were downstairs.
Where are you? At home?
Yeah. I'm in my room. I'm on my laptop.
What are you doing on your laptop?
I'm doing homework. Why are you checking up on me? What is this?
I was worried.
I'm not watching porn, if that's what you're asking. Is that what you're asking? Dad?
We're just glad you're safe.
Mum's here too? Mum, I swear. I'm not watching porn.
You guys are being weird. I'm going to go.
Well, he was actually watching porn.
He said he wasn't. And I believe him.
And that's your choice to turn away. But we prefer to see it all, the boring parts, the shameful parts, the parts that even Frankie doesn't know about. We always pay attention, always want to know. Can you say the same?
You don't know my son better than me.
Actually, I do, or my algorithms do. See here? We track his MSIs.
His meaningful social interactions. Users require regular injections of socially-derived dopamine to maintain optimum connection.
And poor Frankie hasn't received a like in 15 minutes. Sad face, but I can boost it. There, fixed. Your son is happy, safe, and meaningfully social.
Well, what's he doing now?
A friend has sent him a link of...
It's a beheading video.
He's watching a beheading video?
Sent by a friend, so technically, it does still count as a meaningful social interaction.
Stop it. Stop him watching it.
My job here is to keep him watching, not to tell him what to watch. So once he's clicked on some... OK. OK, he switched to something else.
What are you doing to my child?
If you are so worried about him, why don't you go to him at home? Because I have many other users to support.
How many of these are watching videos of beheadings?
The majority of our subscribers are appropriately entertained. Ask one. Her.
Wouldn't that be a little bit weird, a middle-aged man speaking to her?
It's the internet. Happens all the time.
What is she doing? Is she photoshopping her body?
And displaying remarkable technical know-how. These are core skills.
Creating a fake thigh gap is not a core skill. And anyway, I thought the minimum age was 13. These children don't look 13.
I can't share data on users ages.
Well, you don't need data. Are you telling me they're 13?
That user certainly skews younger.
It's not a user. That's a baby.
Still, they are happy, safe, and--
They're fine. It's just, I think their video's finished. Someone must have turned off autoplay. Let me just...
They're still not 13.
I know this might seem disturbing.
Because you're exploiting children.
We're exploiting their attention. It's actually not the same thing.
So what next? Each child gets subscribed at birth before they're born as a condition of conception?
We have the right to grow through optimised attention capture.
Children have a right to grow, to be cared for, not captured.
But we're not actually capturing children.
Look, I understand you're scared. You're getting older. And the world is changing. You become more easily confused. I can see how this could seem alarming.
But the internet is safe. It was built by engineers. And you know what else was built by engineers? Bridges. Do you worry about bridge safety?
I don't leave my child unattended on bridges.
And you don't need to leave them unattended online either, but you do, even though you know deep down, don't you? You do. You know that the internet is full of misinformation, misogyny, racism, fascism, pro-anorexia, pro-self-harm, anti-truth, anti-nuance, anti-empathy, toxic propaganda, or as we like to call it, engaging content.
Well, if you know that it's that bad, why didn't you do something to fix it?
How? Turn off autoplay? Get rid of infinite scroll, surveillance capitalism, extreme material?
Well, yeah, would be good.
And everyone will be happy and safe all of the time? No. Harm is inevitable, offline and on.
So that's a reason to not even try?
I don't see you trying to change the world either.
See you online.
Actually, you won't.
Sorry. I seem to have spilt my water. Can I get another one?
Maybe sparkling this time.
Oh, hey. Is the internet down? I was just on it, then it went out.
It's good to have you back.
But I've been here all this time.
Still, it's good to have you back.