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 this fully updated paperback edition of 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. Both authoritative and trenchant, Antisocial Media shows how Facebook's mission went so wrong.
Facebook “farms” its users for data: the more they produce – the more “user engagement” there is, in other words – the better. Consequently, there is an overriding commercial imperative to increase levels of engagement. And it turns out that some types of pernicious content are good for keeping user-engagement high: fake news and hate speech are pretty good triggers, for example. So the central problem with Facebook is its business model: the societal downsides we are experiencing are, as programmers say, a feature, not a bug.