Antisocial | Andrew Marantz

Summary of: Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
By: Andrew Marantz


Immerse yourself in the world of social media and its impact on American society with Andrew Marantz’s ‘Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation’. Trace the inception of social media platforms, initially designed to unite diverse communities, to the expansion of misinformation and hate across cyberspace. Marantz sheds light on the evolution of the internet, the development of algorithm-driven platforms, and how Facebook keeps users entangled in a web of skewed information. Gain a deeper understanding of how tactics pioneered by techno-utopians inadvertently contributed to the rise in divisive behavior, and explore the role of President Trump as a ‘media troll’ exploiting social media for his own benefit.

Antisocial: The Dark Side of Social Media

Andrew Marantz’s book Antisocial explores the impact of social media on American society. Despite early hopes that the technology would bring people together, Marantz argues that it has transformed the American conversation in terrible ways. Social media has become a platform for misinformation and hate, with devastating consequences. Marantz’s insights into technology, social media, the alt-right and the press have garnered positive reviews, and his book is a timely and thought-provoking read that doesn’t shy away from controversy.

Free Speech and Social Media

The rise of social media has disrupted the American conversation, allowing for hate speech and viral misinformation to spread without restriction. In his book, the author argues that social media companies, who refused to act as gatekeepers, inadvertently helped to destroy the “great American consensus.” The pursuit of large followings and the spread of divisive messages took precedence over improving society. The author emphasizes that the right to free speech has been exploited by those who peddle hatred and falsehoods, and little responsibility has been taken by social media founders to curtail this dangerous trend.

The Dangers of Personalized Filters

In his book, Marantz criticizes how technology companies gather immense data on their users and use personalized filters to promote content that triggers strong emotional responses. This “microtargeting” undermines democratic values as it keeps people tied to these platforms. Marantz specifically calls out Facebook, arguing its purpose is not to disseminate valuable ideas but to retain users. Algorithms used to rank content work on the principle of high engagement, which drives less popular content into oblivion. This personalized filtering threatens the free exchange of ideas, a cornerstone of democracy.

The Man Behind Viral Websites

Emerson Spartz’s belief that a website’s worth is measured by shares and his tactics in making headlines go viral are detailed in this book. Marantz narrates Spartz’s methods in creating Dose, an aggregating website and Dose Politics, which tested political news headlines’ potential to trend. While the author didn’t attribute Trump’s victory to Spartz, it’s in his analysis that Spartz’s tactics contributed to the latter’s rise to power.

The Democratization of Information on Reddit

In the shift from the “open web” to the “social web,” ordinary people dominated the latter, especially on Reddit. According to Marantz, the founders of Reddit opposed control on the movement of information, and their voting system emphasized quality. Surprisingly, Reddit improved access to information by democratizing it, leading to a new era where users have greater control over what they see and read.

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