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Some thoughts on The Circle

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

Being a dedicated social media professional with my finger always on the pulse, it would have been remiss of me to not watch the first episode of Channel 4’s new reality gameshow The Circle, when it premiered on Tuesday night.

Why? Because the big hook of The Circle is – you guessed it – social media. A bunch of awful people are – in the case of The Circle – all living in the same apartment block where the only way they can communicate with each other is through a purpose built social space, the show’s titular circle.

The thing is, the contestants can set their profiles up however they want – they can be themselves, or they can invent a whole new character.

At the end of each episode the contestants rate each other’s profiles and, at some point, those with the lowest rankings will be evicted and replaced by more fame-hungry, face-palm-inducing examples of the kind of people you probably would prefer to never meet in real life.

The show will run on like that for three weeks, after which a winner/survivor will be crowned and rewarded with £50,000 as a prize.

Now I’ll admit, I’d been intrigued from the first time I saw an ad for the show a few weeks back. And, couple that with the fact that The Circle started literally right after Bake Off, it was a case of either watch or it – you know – get up and reach for the remote.

Laziness won – although it’s laziness I’m at least somewhat countering by writing something about the show.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way; the show is awful, the contestants are awful and I can think of few things I’d like to do less than watch another episode.

The social media aspect of The Circle is mildly interesting for a bit, but not enough to keep me hooked.

What was fascinating, though, was hearing the contestants’ thoughts about social media and how it fits in with their lives.

First up, we met Aiden, who admits that everything she does is “all about the ‘Gram.”

Then it was Dan, who quite astutely noted that your social media profile shows the “way you want the world to see you, which isn’t necessarily the truth.” Dan also brought his pet turtle with him into his temporary home. I quite liked Dan – even if he is an estate agent.

Third up was Jennifer, the current token ‘older’ contestant (she’s all of 40 but – shockingly – lists her age as 34 on her profile…the rebel!). She doesn’t have time for social media in the real world, and applied to be on the show to “highlight that you never know what you’re being served online.” To do this, she’s pretending that she’s an oncologist to gain her fellow contestants’ trust.

How’s that going after one episode? Not so good. She came bottom of the rankings.

Next was Mitchell, self-proclaimed ‘king of Tinder’ who swipes left and right from his mum’s house – because that’s who he lives with. He says that people who see his social profiles “think he’s a dickhead” and, having seen in real life, I can understand why.

The next three contestants are all hiding something; Freddie is gay but is “playing it straight” with his fellow contestants, and has invented a recently deceased dog to gain sympathy; Sian has “modelled a bit” in the past but has deviously chosen a slightly more ‘normal’ looking profile photo, in a quite stunning attempt to test whether people like her for her personality or only usually connect with her for her looks (can’t imagine how that one will end); and Genelle has her baby with her – not her bae, an actual small human – but she hasn’t told anyone about that yet.

And finally, the contestant who came out on top after episode one…Kate…who is actually a man called Alex…who is competing as Kate and using a photo of his girlfriend for his profile photo. Why? Well, he got catfished once so he’s using the tactic to try win himself 50 grand and he writes social media off entirely as being “very fake.”

As I said already – it’s hideous.

But, those attitudes towards social media are certainly eye-opening. An acute awareness that either you don’t have to be yourself online or that other people you connect with could well be someone completely different. The sheer confidence to create the online persona of a total player when you still live with your mum, or readily admitting that essentially everything you do in your life, you do to share on Instagram.

I don’t know about you, but it’s a bit scary. All a bit Black Mirror. If this is the future of social media, you can count me out thanks.

Now, I’m not an idiot; the people making The Circle will have selected its contestants based on who will make good TV, so these terrible people in no way represent how the wider spread of Gen Z uses social technologies.

Even so, it can’t be a good thing having a national TV show present this kind of approach to using social media as entertaining and admirable. It makes me cringe that the object of my profession is being portrayed in this way.

More worrying, there appears to be nothing in the show to protect the contestants – no reporting tools, no talk around the effect being in The Circle and living double lives might have on their mental health.

It’s disturbing.

But, more than anything, might this show be the death knell for social media as we know it? We all know that, when something goes mainstream, it loses its cool factor. It happened with James Corden, it happened when Bring Me the Horizon forgot to record guitars on their last album and it happened to Facebook when you got a friend request from your grandma.

Perhaps this is the real beginning of the end for social as we know it – used as tool for some beautiful idiots to prod each other to breaking point all for our twisted enjoyment.

Or, maybe I’ve just bashed out 1,000 words about a hot new show, purely for the likes, shares and eyeballs?

I mean, I haven’t…but it would be deliciously ironic if I had, wouldn’t it?