Every Friday, our Speed Read rolls up its sleeves and gets its hands dirty by rummaging around in the best and worst of the week’s headlines.
Do you remember when Facebook was a place of digital innocence? A benevolent blue and white harbour in which to moor photos of you and your mates raising alcopops aloft in a mediocre nightclub; a place where the only fallout you had to worry about was that time you changed your relationship status from “single” to “it’s complicated” or defriended the bloke you met in Spain that summer after it became obvious he was a fan of late period Bon Jovi? Halcyon days.
But all of that feels sepia-tinted now; a relic from a softer time, a time before you inadvertently handed over every speck and corner of your life to Mark Zuckerberg, who left then these details in an unsealed cardboard box on the reception desk at Facebook HQ, alongside a note that simply read: “Help yourself”.
There’s no easy way to say this but those pictures of you and your ex-boyfriend at your Granny’s 70th birthday party are the reason why Donald Trump is now the American president.
Flippancy aside, the investigation into the theft of personal data from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica by The Observer and Channel 4 News, via testimony from a Facebook whistle-blower, has sustained a whole week’s worth of media coverage. The suggestion that this stolen data was then used to target voters in the US election and therefore, with a somewhat sizable leap of logic, helped sway the result in the favour of Trump has, at the very least, shone a light onto Facebook’s shoddy security (so much so that the hashtag #deleteFacebook has been trending all week). In more alarmist corners of the media, it’s also led to some significant fretting about the vulnerability of democracy in these digital times. Headlines such as The Guardian’s “Data firmed bragged of role in Trump victory” should probably make us all shiver in actual fear.
The other story to regularly make the front pages this week was the arrest and subsequent charging of Ant from Ant and Dec for drink driving. There’s nothing comic or wry to be quipped about this story. The guy’s been struggling for ages and is clearly unwell (not that this excuses driving while on the booze) but the fact that we know about the state of his marriage, the fate of his dog, the number of times Dec visited him this week, the name of the addiction clinic that he’s just checked himself back into and how TV producers have planned to cover his absence from our screens maybe, just maybe, gives just a HINT of the reason as to why he’s ended up in this state in the first place.
News landing on the Absurdist Desk this week included Nigel Farage climbing aboard a boat near Westminster and then throwing a load of dead fish into Old Father Thames, all the while being photographed by members of the press wondering how their lives had ended up like this. Farage had in fact hijacked an existing protest by lovable millionaire toff Jacob Rees-Mogg against the government’s newly-announced “transition period” for the 21 months following Brexit. 21 months during which everything that’s bundled up with our EU membership package, including access to British waters for smelly foreign fishermen, will remain almost exactly the same as it’s always been.
And nothing says “we won’t be a vassal state” louder than a dead mackerel.
More bad news for JRM, NF and DM (dead mackerel) came on Thursday in the you-couldn’t-make-it-up revelation that the new blue British passports, so beloved of those on the winning side of the Brexit war, are going to be manufactured IN EUROPE. “Sacre bleu!” shouted the Mail, “Our new passports to be made by EU firm”. We’ll just leave that one there. Some weeks this column just writes itself.
In the least surprising victory since Kim Jung-Un won the “North Ko-Rear of the Year” competition for the fourth consecutive occasion, Vladimir Putin has been re-elected as President of Russia. This news was greeted with sullen faces here in the UK given the parlous state of relations between our two nations following the recent murder attempt in Salisbury via a deadly Russian-made nerve agent. These troubled times call for stoicism and leadership, for resilience and nuance, for the much-misunderstood art of international diplomacy; these times call for Boris Johnson: “Putin is going to use (the World Cup) in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics”. Oil on troubled water.
A quick paragraph on the week’s other news features the latest instalment of scientists being brilliant, this time making a breakthrough in the search for a cure for blindness; in more depressing developments the very last male Northern White Rhino has died; poorer children are on average 2kg heavier than those from a rich background; obesity will soon overtake smoking as the number one cause of cancer in the UK; a submerged plastic island the size of France has been found in the ocean to the west of the USA and avowed atheist Stephen Hawking is going to be interred in Westminster Abbey.
Finally, the Sun proved that a good pun is as fleet and fragile as a hummingbird’s wings after it followed up its recent stellar efforts (“the liar, the swish and the whore probe”) with a very shoddy front page about police being given time off to destress with yoga: “Bend coppers”, it limped. Time for a holiday in The Sun I think.
And we end with footage shot exclusively by The Friday Speed Read inside the latest round of Brexit negotiations. Never has the future of agricultural policy been debated so high-mindedly or rigorously:
See you next week.