From A Rising Star At The New Yorker , A Deeply Immersive Chronicle Of How The Optimistic Entrepreneurs Of Silicon Valley Set Out To Create A Free And Democratic Internet And How The Cynical Propagandists Of The Alt Right Exploited That Freedom To Propel The Extreme Into The Mainstream For Several Years, Andrew Marantz, ANew Yorker Staff Writer, Has Been Embedded In Two Worlds The First Is The World Of Social Media Entrepreneurs, Who, Acting Out Of Na Vete And Reckless Ambition, Upended All Traditional Means Of Receiving And Transmitting Information The Second Is The World Of The People He Calls The Gate Crashers The Conspiracists, White Supremacists, And Nihilist Trolls Who Have Become Experts At Using Social Media To Advance Their Corrosive Agenda Antisocial Ranges Broadly From The First Mass Printed Books To The Trending Hashtags Of The Present From Secret Gatherings Of Neo Fascists To The White House Press Briefing Room And Traces How The Unthinkable Becomes Thinkable, And Then How It Becomes Reality Combining The Keen Narrative Detail Of Bill Buford S Among The Thugs And The Sweep Of George Packer S The Unwinding,Antisocial Reveals How The Boundaries Between Technology, Media, And Politics Have Been Erased, Resulting In A Deeply Broken Informational Landscape The Landscape In Which We All Now Live Marantz Shows How Alienated Young People Are Led Down The Rabbit Hole Of Online Radicalization, And How Fringe Ideas Spread From Anonymous Corners Of Social Media To Cable TV To The President S Twitter Feed Marantz Also Sits With The Creators Of Social Media As They Start To Reckon With The Forces They Ve Unleashed Will They Be Able To Solve The Communication Crisis They Helped Bring About, Or Are Their Interventions Too Little Too Late This is a difficult book to review Depending on ones level of prior familiarity with the subject the author is discussing, it will feel either familiar or revelatory For me it probably fell in the former category Marantz investigates the rise of the populist political internet in the United States and spends time with some of its major figures like Mike Cernovich, Cassandra Fairbanks, Gavin McInnes and an assortment of other people who will be immediately recognizable to most followers of online media If I were someone who were less plugged into this culture already, I might find the contents of this book explosive As it is, I am closely acquainted with this genre of demagoguery and grifting and was not surprised by any of the interviews that he conducted Because of this subjectivity I am not giving it a star rating I felt that the book was geared towards a print based, probably older demographic One thing did really pique my interest though The discussion of the Sailer Strategy for winning U.S elections, coined by the far right blogger Steve Sailer Sailer proposes presidential candidates run on an overtly white ethnonationalist campaign platform, calculatingly it would create a racial polarization that would still be a winning play It would also allow candidates to pass laws once in office skewing power towards white Americans and solidifying a hegemonic white makeup of the country Say what you want about Sailer but he is an intelligent person His strategy was not drawn up shortsightedly and was based on calculations he did in the 2000 election that brought to office George W Bush It also appears to work, as Donald Trump s overtly racist Sailer Strategy campaign proved in 2016 It remains to be seen if the GOP will use it again in the future Now that it s been normalized though I don t see why they wouldn t.The New Yorker magazine, where Marantz writes, publishes pieces that have a very particularly polished prose style It is difficult to describe precisely, but you know it when you see it This book is written in that style The sentences are clipped and elegant The book feels like a jumbo size New Yorker article, which isn t a bad thing For some reason the philosophical and historical digressions didn t really move me, but I essentially agree with Marantz s defense of American liberalism He seems like a decent person Marantz acknowledges his own conflicted feelings about becoming a de facto defender of the establishment, while not shying away from its flaws I am no apologist for the status quo, but I find myself agreeing with him We should hope that the New Yorker writers defeat the InfoWars vloggers in the epistemological war currently being waged You do not want to live in a society shaped by the latter, and we re already starting to. Right before the election, I was sharing a meal with one of the smarter people I know He s a little younger and a bit online than I am, so sometimes our conversations go to places that surprise me After I said something with an implied assumption that he d be voting for Clinton, he said, No I m going 3rd party I pressed him for reasons why he would, in my opinion, throw his vote away when the fight against a dangerous narcissist seemed important than hand wringing over Clinton s imperfections He vaguely started saying things about how he didn t trust her and she was corrupt until I pressed him for one example I assumed, again, that he might be able to legitimately talk about something to do with the Clinton Foundation or about how she slimed Monica Instead he said that he d been hearing about some guy called Vince Foster that she had murdered At the time I was astonished that this old bugbear of Vince Foster, which I remember laughing about as a kid in 90 s because it was so obviously ludicrous, was now being parroted back to me 20 years later by, again, a really smart guy who missed this conspiracy the first time around.After reading this brilliant and scary book, I have a better idea about how this sort of bullshit gets injected into the body politic like one of those scary vaccines that I ve been hearing so much about lately The book surveys the media or post media landscape as well as anything you ll read After, you ll have a better understanding of how susceptible our collective boomer swing state Uncle is to clicking and sharing noxious memes on Facebook, which, at this point, is basically where all boomer uncles, and most everybody else, gets their news.Boomer uncles aside, Marantz spends years embedded with some of the purveyors of this new style of politics, so that you and I don t have to This includes members of the alt right, alt light and various fellow travelers He then backtracks to show how social media rewards content that arouses anger and fear over other emotions, and how these new content makers were able to hack this system of information delivery to spread the worst ideas of the 20th century in new packaging Marantz doesn t sugarcoat what the ramifications of this disruption has been and holds the tech bros who put incentives in place of causing outrage as being the key way to succeed in this new media hellscape There is a later chapter where he starts seeing signs of the tech companies clamping down hate speech and spreading misinformation, which seems a little too optimistic I m writing this the week after Facebook made it a policy to allow paid ads to have disproven lies in them the kind of decision that will certainly have political ramifications and potentially swing elections by muddying the water In any case, this, along with other recent books like The Attention Merchants, Jia Tolentino s Trick Mirror, and, strangely, Ben Lerner s The Topeka School do a great job of situating us into the funhouse world of 2019. An interesting and fascinating book that about our times and helps to understand what s going on line.Even if it s about USA the content can be applied to different countries and it s a clear depiction of what is changing the rules of the conversation online.It s well written, well researched and engrossing.Highly recommended Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine. An amazing book that digs deep into on line life of the fringe sites on the right and how they find a brief moment in the sun as their candidate makes it all the way to the White House The book shows this group before and after the election, and in some cases how these people came to believe what they do, with years of reporting from this world and expanding on the many excellent articles he s done for the New Yorker You have to feel for the author as he spends years listening to all this hate, fear and bigotry, but after reading this book you re happy that he did and did so with such a curious mind. Although by no means definitive, Antisocial examines how a cadre of alt right insurgents, white supremacists, and general shit stirrers exploited the anything goes mindset of social media to disseminate claims and mindsets thought to have been banished from normal discourse Be sure you are familiar with the Overton Window it is referenced throughout the book Unlike other books that tried to cover this area Kill All Normies and Troll Nation, Marantz examines this explosive topic with a remarkable degree of nuance and, dare I say it, even handedness Because Antisocial derives from a series of articles Marantz wrote for The New Yorker, it doesn t cohere at times The chapters on Emerson Spartz seemed largely irrelevant, except perhaps as an illustration of the degraded notion of how news is disseminated on social media and the Internet.Marantz is particularly effective at describing how the alt right, alt light and white supremacist adjacents use humor, irony, and plausible deniability to obscure their repugnant beliefs This detached approach permits someone to foment hate with outrageous statements and when called out for those statements, decry humorless snowflakes as SJW s who who can t take a joke The ultimate message of Antisocial is that the arc of history does not necessarily bend toward justice It can also bend toward fear and loathing if one is not engaged. This is the book you want to read about the on line underground.It is superior in everyday to the rantish Troll Nation or the too personal, too disorganized Troll Hunting. Trolls are just part of the problem, and not all of the online meming entwined with the British and American elections in 2016 were trolls, nor were they all Russians Antisocial is exquisitely reported, written, and researched And, based on his subsequent interview appearances, it was hard for Marantz to be so balanced It was worthy of a writer for The New Yorker. The nexus of social media, radical movements, cyberespionage, and politics is what fueled those elections and is fueling the great partisan divide, which is a vicious circle that is now feeding itself.Marantz doesn t talk much about the espionage portion, but I doubt anyone will be able to do a better job with the rest He was embedded in the parlance of the Iraq War with these folks He bent over backwards to tell their story as humans, even if the story didn t reflect well on them Compared with Marcotte s Troll Nation, which just kicks up a counternarrative, the reporting here is comprehensive. I ve been reading a lot of these exposes recently as we all normies or the un redpilled all of a sudden discover this community of the alt right This one is among the better of these books because Marantz is reasonable in describing these groups they are not that big or powerful and certainly not the downfall of civilization In fact, the of these books I read, it seems like it s the same 5 dudes that are popping up They must feel so thrilled with the amount of hand wringing they ve created And that is, of course, the point of all their trolling I wonder if any of these books would have been written under a President Clinton regime and whether their ranks would have grown or less if she d been elected I don t actually think any of these guys or the one girl want to be in charge of anything I don t even think they are ambitious enough to want the world to burn I think they just want to get a rise out of people befitting the stunted teenage boys that they are. Rounded up a bit much of the material appeared on slightly different form in the New Yorker, and sometimes it shows But I liked it a lot Marantz is an insightful and open guide Antisocial is a combination of expedition spending untold hours with alt.right and alt.light figures, anarchists, self promoters, and individuals who are just plain lost , anthropology what is the lay of this strange new land of social media , psychology who are the key figures what motivates them what led them to where they are now what, if anything, do they believe , political observation, and a personal search for an answer to the free speech questions raised by social media are there limits to what can be said if so, what are they and how are they determined What is the right response to despicable online behavior What if it moves from the digital world to the real world The personal search also involves what it s like to be a Jewish reporter spending time with neo Nazis It s a bit of a rough ride there are some pretty awful people here And it s than a little dismaying in the picture it paints But it sheds important light on one of the most important forces in society and politics today I m going to let the author speak for himself ere Marantz discusses how it is the number of clicks that determines what things appear online, not whether they re honest or true, and the corrosive effects this has on journalism and public perceptions of the truth It seemed clear not just to me, but to anyone who was paying attention that things were drifting in an unnerving direction How would humanity avoid a clickbait death spiral I don t think there s an answer to that, he a social media executive said, his tone suddenly turning flinty If I were in the media business, I would focus on making a product that people actually want Because that s how business works The big brains in social media had taken control of the media industry, then moved fast and broken it now they claimed no responsibility for fixing it A fundamental question In other words, are the words of liars and racist demagogues really deserving of coverage by serious journalists And doesn t covering them hand them a megaphone for spreading their lies and hatred Another, on the difficulty of trying to present both sides in an age of gaslighting Traditional reporters were facing essentially the same dilemma they d faced when covering online troll raids, only on a far larger scale They could be evenhanded, or they could tell the truth It was impossible to do both Marantz had pretty good access to a lot of interesting bad people, but didn t make particularly good use of that access He seems better when writing about people he likes, but even less objective then he basically fellated the Reddit team when they became censorious and seems to not understand the value of free speech given the asymmetric harm of censorship chilling effects vs random idiots saying things which are easily debunked, the Streisand effect, etc.One really interesting thing from this book was when interview subjects recorded the interviews themselves and released unedited recordings makes reporting in general a lot suspect when you see behind the curtain.The people he chose to interview were not super exciting mainly alt lite , but aren t really interviewed elsewhere, so this might be worth reading if you want to learn about them However, those people movement are basically over it s just mainstream Trump in 2020 stuff , so other than historical interest, there s no real reason to learn about them The bigger ongoing issue is the censorship of platforms by the left within silicon valley , traditional journalists, and now by the government both parties , and the 1A being in retreat. No question the author personally struggled with this book, which combines several short loosely related pieces some adapted from either previously published articles or as article preparations The topic is a difficult one to present unemotionally and focuses only on the Alt Right extremists, ignoring how other groups similarly misuse and manipulate social media systems As the old saying goes, Crimes are only committed by others Although the book adds insights to the bigger problem, the book would have been stronger and credible had the author also examined other social media abusers.A honest title would have included the adjective Alt Right to modify Extremists.
- 400 pages
- Andrew Marantz
- 20 November 2018 Andrew Marantz