THE CHAOS MACHINE: The story behind how social media rewired our minds and the world

author: Max Fisher

the publisher: Little, Brown & Company

page: 389

price: $29

In Max Fisher’s authoritative and devastating account of the impact of social media, he repeatedly evokes Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Released in 1968, a supercomputer brutally kills an astronaut on a ship bound for Jupiter. Its austere and ambiguous aesthetic blends perfectly between utopia and dystopia. And as a tale of trying to fix a runaway and selfish technology, it’s a perfect fit.

fisher new york times A journalist who has covered horrific violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, he provides first-hand testimony from both sides of the global conflict, focusing on the role of Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube in fostering genocide hate. Alongside accounts of stomach-churning atrocities, he details the viral disinformation, espionage, murder, rape, pedophilia, and often fabricated accusations against minorities that fuel it. But he is careful not to postulate causality where there may be mere correlation: the book argues that certain features of social his media are the real causes of public fear and anger. It explores the question of whether

Enjoying moral outrage is one of the key emotions Fisher sees being exploited by algorithms devised by Google and Meta. Diversity drives engagement, which drives ad revenue. Fisher details the evolution of behavioral technology that defies many denials by corporate representatives that platforms are inherently or intentionally manipulative.

These denials are also not contrary to the stated intentions of the company’s founders. In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg wrote an essay arguing that the tech industry provides the “social infrastructure” for a new phase of human relationships. Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and his Palantir, articulated his anti-democratic tendencies as early as 2009, saying that society cannot be left to “thoughtless demonstrations.” He and his Silicon Valley peers saw society as “a series of engineering problems waiting to be solved,” Fisher writes.

The story of these oversized protagonists is one of arrogance and ignorance. In a culture so tolerant of crude simplifications, tech billionaires are shrouded in the most trite of genius myths. White male geeks exhibit, in Thiel’s words, “Asperger’s-like social incompetence.” Culture with sage-like gifts (at the expense of a true understanding of the autism spectrum).

But myths mask serious failures. In the opening scene of the book, when Fisher was ushered through his Facebook “playground of steel and glass,” he had a leaked document outlining the platform’s speech policy. There is no coherent and comprehensive list, only his disconnected PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets, scattered answers to complex geopolitical questions, and outsourced documents with conflicting rules. I have a guidebook. This is what Facebook moderators have. One of the tech industry’s biggest open secrets, he writes, is that “no one really knows how the algorithms that govern social media really work.”

Fisher refers to Zuckerberg’s surprisingly naive views. Social In Fisher’s rigorous quest to understand how his media have “rewired our minds,” he interviews a number of psychologists about academic research and fascinates readers. Discover insights. But he doesn’t treat with skepticism the ultimate premise of the science that creates the negative effects of social media and presents it as a potential solution.

As long as psychology has existed as an applied science, it has served two purposes. and military applications, in the field of psychological operations. However, psychologists are increasingly embracing the role of social engineers. Social psychology uses predictable forms of irrationality to “tweak” subjects in particular directions, whether online, in the workplace, or in public policy. Positive psychology focuses on well-being and resilience, with the aim of ameliorating perceived social ills by promoting strengths and virtues. We have treated it as an operational component. Most important research on the impact of social media has been done in these areas.

However, the underlying causal mechanism still remains unclear. In Myanmar, where social his media machinations have fueled support for the military’s ruthless campaign against the Rohingya, Fischer concedes that “no algorithm can create so much hatred out of thin air.” Of course, there are facts on the ground that determine algorithmic impact, local susceptibility to disinformation, and splitting explosiveness. And this highlights an important point. Millions of people use social media without succumbing to conspiracy theories or escalating moral outrage into violence.

So we need to ask not just why some people are so susceptible to manipulation, but what the “wiring” of the mind is that protects others in a life saturated with social media. likely includes education, ranging from an individual’s critical thinking skills to the overall quality of the information environment.

The moral of Fisher’s book is that the ambitious project of human transformation needs no more celestial inspiration. Rather, we need individual members of society to resist such efforts. If the political will is strong enough and our political system has not yet been destroyed by the Chaos Machine, we have the means to do so.

©2022 TheNewYorkTimes news service

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