The Chaos Machine: How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World
New York Times reporter Max Fisher’s book is a scathing account of the manifold ills wrought by social media. He explores toxic misogyny, recounting the unsavory particulars of “GamerGate,” in which a woman video game developer was subjected to “collective harassment” after false allegations that she slept with a journalist in exchange for a positive review of her game.
Other examples of the dark side of social media include anti-Muslim hate speech in Myanmar proliferating on Facebook, the spread of anti-vaccine rhetoric during the pandemic, and efforts by Russia to interfere with U.S. elections.
Fisher also breaks down the tactics used by social media companies to get users to spend more time online, among them notifications that are meant to set off feel-good dopamine releases in the brain, a tactic similar to the “intermittent variable reinforcement” used by casinos.
There’s no shortage of books lamenting the evils of social media, but what’s impressive here is how Fisher brings it all together: the breadth of information, covering everything from the intricacies of engagement-boosting algorithms to theories of sentimentalism, makes this a one-stop shop.
It’s a well-researched, damning picture of just what happens online.