The Chaos Machine

By Max Fisher

The Chaos Machine book cover
Added October 11, 2022

We all have a vague sense that social media is bad for us, for our children, and for our democracies. But what exactly is it about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other platforms that causes the kind of upheaval we see spilling out into real-world violence? Max Fisher, using years of his own international reporting for the New York Times, tells the inside story of how the social networks wrecked the world: the foundational tenets of their ideology, their race to maximize engagement, and the resulting algorithms that drive everyday users to extreme opinions and, ultimately, extreme behavior. Taking the reader from deep inside Silicon Valley to the far reaches of Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Brazil, Fisher draws a thread from the engineering of social media algorithms directly through to the practical fallout: the cancellations, the omnipotence of hate speech, and, increasingly, the spillover into violence. Fisher weaves together the stories of five people--designers, executives, and users--to show not only the mentality that brought about the drive for engagement, but also the ways in which actual humans lives are ruined. In the process he captures our cultural shift toward a world in which people are polarized not by convincing truths, but by misinformation, outrage, and fear. The result is a fresh, excoriating, and definitive narrative of the rise of the social media giants and the devastating consequences of policies that claim to champion free speech but in fact prize limitless profits above all else. Brimming with astounding human stories and precise reporting on a willful corporate obliviousness nothing short of criminal, The Chaos Machine captures the tangible havoc wreaked upon our minds and our world by the titans of the tech industry.

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