In the well-informed opinion of Cullen Hoback, Mark Zuckerberg does not have a benign vision of the world. And that’s putting it kindly.
“There are a few of these IM chats where Zuckerberg is just belittling the idiots who are giving him information,” the filmmaker says, calling the Straight from Venice, California, and referring to some leaked transcripts dating from 2004 in which the Facebook founder describes early subscribers to his new social-media platform as “dumb fucks”.
“And that man has not changed,” Hoback continues. “He has not changed. People, when they become immensely powerful, their emotional development freezes. He has not developed much beyond that. He may have learned how to hide it better, but…”
Taking a few well-deserved shots at Time magazine’s 2010 person of the year aside—and the film ends with a provocative guerrilla encounter with the man himself, right outside Zuckerberg’s home—”learning how to hide things better” is just one of the angles considered by Hoback in his explosive documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply.
The film gets its Vancouver premiere along with six other must-see movies at this year’s Best of Hot Docs festival at the Vancity Theatre this weekend, with Hoback in attendance for a Q & A after the screening on Saturday (June 22). And the filmmaker has a pretty good idea of what he can expect from his audience. “The thing everyone wants to know is how to protect themselves,” he says. “That’s the first question, and the second question is what can we do about it?”
In reality, it’d be impossible to watch the film and not ask those questions. Taking its title from the bland legalese accompanying pretty much every digital transaction we happily enter into, whether it’s using Google, purchasing music, or texting pictures of our genitalia at three in the morning, Terms and Conditions May Apply amply demonstrates the monolithic surveillance and antiprivacy superstructure that has developed behind the scenes—especially since 9-11, thanks to a very dark alliance between governments and the private sector. In his words, the goal of the film is “to know that this stuff is all real and it’s worse than you think”.
That Hoback actually has some answers is remarkable. Indeed, he’s bringing a fresh new edit of the film to Vancouver, adapted to cover both the recent revelations concerning the NSA and its PRISM program as well as information on a newly formed and much needed coalition that includes the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Consumers Union, dedicated to returning control of user data to its rightful owners: us.
Equally remarkable is the fact that Hoback has produced something with such a relatively light tone. Then again, when a SWAT team bursts into your apartment because you quoted Fight Club on your Facebook wall, as incredulous New York comedian Joe Lipari recalls at one point in the film, what else are ya gonna do?
“I was very conscious of including as much humour in the film as I could. Every tragedy has to have moments when you laugh,” offers the filmmaker, who says his “mind was blown, repeatedly”, as he went deeper into his research. Prepare for something similar.
The Best of Hot Docs runs Friday to Sunday (June 21 to 23); more information at www.viff.org/.