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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.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
The book is of great value to both students of media-related disciplines and to the general public. Written in a commendably accessible style and largely free of academic jargon, it is likely to appeal to (and benefit) anyone willing to better understand the world in which we are deeply immersed a social-mediatised world. * LSE Review of Books * [an] elegant new book * Des Freedman, openDemocracy * This thoroughly researched and persuasively argued account of social media's noxious effects on the very fabric of society is the first study of its kind: a trenchant analysis of Facebook's unwholesome side effects. It needed saying, and it's supremely well said. * Juanita Coulson, The Lady * What distinguishes Vaidhyanathan's book from others is not only the depth of his research, but the fact that Facebook in placed into a larger social, historical and political context, thus delivering a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the company over the past years. * Felix Simon, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung * An excellent critique * John Naughton, The Observer * Vaidhyanathan writes with conviction and a deep sense of history. His research is sharp and diverse. * Jinoy Jose P, The Hindu Business Line * Siva Vaidhyanathan's Antisocial Media ... is the best tech-sceptic book of the year, by an academic who writes like a human. Even better, Vaidhyanathan's insights into the destructive power of Facebook are truly global, taking in Modi's India and Duterte's Philippines. * Helen Lewis, Books of the Year 2018, New Statesman *