Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
If you wanted to build a machine that would distribute propaganda to millions of people, distract them from important issues, energize hatred and bigotry, erode social trust, undermine respectable journalism, foster doubts about science, and engage in massive surveillance all at once, you would make something a lot like Facebook. Of course, none of that was part of the plan.
In Antisocial Media, Siva Vaidhyanathan explains how Facebook devolved from an innocent social site hacked together by Harvard students into a force that, while it may make personal life just a little more pleasurable, makes democracy a lot more challenging. It’s an account of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit, and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it’s an indictment of how “social media” has fostered the deterioration of democratic culture around the world, from facilitating Russian meddling in support of Trump’s election to the exploitation of the platform by murderous authoritarians in Burma and the Philippines.
Facebook grew out of an ideological commitment to data-driven decision making and logical thinking. Its culture is explicitly tolerant of difference and dissent. Both its market orientation and its labor force are global. It preaches the power of connectivity to change lives for the better. Indeed, no company better represents the dream of a fully connected planet “sharing” words, ideas, and images, and no company has better leveraged those ideas into wealth and influence. Yet no company has contributed more to the global collapse of basic tenets of deliberation and democracy. Both authoritative and trenchant, Antisocial Media shows how Facebook’s mission went so wrong
“Fortunately, finally, we seem ready to have the necessary conversations about how social media has changed our hearts and minds and politics, including the hard conversations. And this is the right book for our moment. It lays out, in crisp, compelling language, why Facebook may be good for some individuals but not good for democracy. Antisocial Media is not negative or defeatist. But it does not sugarcoat the facts. We can only remake technology to conform to new social values if we do the hard work of committing to what they are. That’s a problem that Facebook can’t solve. This is history, philosophy, and a call to action.” -Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT, and author of Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together
“Hello, reader. Do you use Facebook? Do you see it more times in a given day than you, say, drink a glass of water? If so, I suggest you find out from Siva Vaidhyanathan to what it is that you’ve given not only yourself, but also your crucial little portion of our world. He’s the one who can tell you.” -Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude
“As a San Franciscan, I’ve had a front-row seat for the rise of Silicon Valley as a global power, and what the glossy new oligarchs have brought us terrifies me, as has the widespread obliviousness to the consequences of their new systems of information control. It’s made me enormously grateful for Siva Vaidhyanathan, who set out after the election to dissect exactly how Facebook had helped corrupt our minds, our culture, our elections, and our governments. His scathing conclusions here should both chill you and equip you to face the perils the new information megacorporations pose to each and all of us.” -Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark
“An eye -opening and provocative examination of the unintended consequences that this tech giant inflicted on the global community it created.” –Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Cyberwar
“Facebook’s plan to connect the world has backfired. Democratic societies are unraveling everywhere. Conflict is trumping community, suspicion is undermining trust. Antisocial Media is the best account of how and why the world’s leading tech firms have contributed to this crisis, here and across the globe. Vaidhyanathan’s message is not merely necessary; it’s urgent.” –Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at NYU and author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life
“Vaidhyanathan does have some solutions in mind, but they are not the simple tweaks Facebook proposes. There’s no way at this point to reengineer a platform that rewards hasty, emotional, shallow engagement or moderates content to ensure two billion people behave themselvesEL We need to work across borders to make these steps multinational if not global. And we need to do it soon. The lamps are going out all over Europe again, and far beyond.” – Barbara Fister, Inside HigherEd
About the Author
Siva Vaidhyanathan is the Robertson Professor of Media Studies and the Director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. He produces a local public-affairs television program and several podcasts, and he directs the publication of Virginia Quarterly Review. A former professional journalist, he has published five previous books on technology, law, and society, includingThe Googlization of Everything. He has also contributed to publications such as The Nation, Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, BookForum, The New York Times Book Review, and The Baffler.