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Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation

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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, a New Yorker staff writer, has been embedded in two worlds. The first is the world of social-media entrepreneurs, who, acting out of naïvete 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?

400 pages, Hardcover

First published October 8, 2019

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About the author

Andrew Marantz

1 book79 followers
Andrew Marantz writes narrative journalism about politics, the internet and the way we understand our world.

Andrew Marantz became a staff writer at the New Yorker in 2017. Prior to that, he worked on the magazine's editorial staff, splitting his time between writing stories (about such topics as hip-hop purism and the Truman Show delusion) and editing stories (about Las Vegas night clubs, Liberian warlords and many other things). Ultimately, Marantz's main interest lies not in any particular subject matter, but in how people form beliefs -- and under what circumstances those beliefs can change for the better.

Since 2016, Marantz has been at work on a book about the perils of virality, the myth of linear progress and the American far right. To report the book, he spent several years embedded with some of the conspiracists, white supremacists and nihilist trolls who have become experts at using social media to advance their corrosive agendas. He also watched as some of social media's earliest and most influential founders started to reckon with the forces they'd unleashed. The book, forthcoming in October from Viking Press, is called Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.

Marantz is also a contributor to Radiolab and The New Yorker Radio Hour, and has written for Harper's, Mother Jones, the New York Times and many other outlets. He holds an undergraduate degree in religion from Brown University and a master's degree in literary nonfiction from New York University. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, who is a criminal-justice reformer; his two-year-old son, who is an excellent dancer; and an endless supply of peanut butter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 397 reviews
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
March 15, 2020
If you're somehow unfamiliar with the alt-right and their extreme messages, you'll find this book a good place to start learning about them. I initially found this book interesting, as the author got to know and interviewed several of these people, showing how they helped elect the worst president the USA has ever known, and how they have never cared about his policies (indeed, many of them are for universal health care and free continuing education), only that he is as racist, xenophobic, and hateful as they. I think all of them to some extent, just like any online troll, are doing it for attention. Stir the shit and everyone looks for the source of the smell. The more shit flying around, the more people who are going to notice, get disgusted, and react. 

As a GR friend who already read this book told me, the book isn't heavy on analysis. After about the midway point, I grew tired of the trope. Nothing shocked me anymore (actually, I wasn't very shocked in the beginning since I know people like this and how they think and talk). I would have liked the book more if the first part was about these specific people and how they came to dominate much of the discourse of the American public with their vitriol and conspiracy theories, and then the second part to dig deeper into how this has affected us all and continues to affect us. I would say that every single person who uses social media has been influenced by these people, whether to be swayed (more) to their side, or more to the left, increasing the divide. And this is continuing. Why stop with the election of trump when you're writing the book in 2019 (published in 2020)? Why not show how they not only helped trump win the presidency but are still making it possible for him to implement dangerous and hateful policies by influencing Americans and making it seem "normal" and even good in the eyes of many to throw children into cages simply because they are not "us"?  To ban people from even entering the US based on nothing but their religion?  To cut government spending on social welfare programs because they think that people of colour and immigrants benefit the most from those programs (even though that is untrue)?  I could go on and on and on. 
These people who created the Alt-right movement online did not create a racist America, nor did trump. It has been a racist country since its inception. What they did is to normalize it and encourage people with these beliefs to proudly display their hatred of "others". To give lawmakers the go-ahead to make policies that hurt many, many people. 

I don't know what the answer is but one thing that is clear is that those of us on the left can no longer turn a blind eye to the poison that infects America.  

I am feeling all over the place at the moment and hope what I'm writing is coherent. Maybe now with Covid19, people will wake up to the dangers trump and his administration pose not just to Americans but to the entire world. These are scary times for anyone who realizes the severity of this virus. Sitting at my computer right now, I look out at the evangelical church near my building and see the parking lots are almost full. Trump supporters are insisting this virus is either a hoax or nothing to worry about, because they get their "news" from Fox or from trump and the alt-righter's social media tweets and posts. This is dangerous to say the least.

I intended to write solely about this book and yet find I can't because of how we continue to be affected by these extremists. Again, I wish the author had included more along these lines instead of making the book almost entirely about what a handful of the top online Alt-righters say and think and do and tweet. It became wearying after awhile. I also would have liked him to include some ideas of what we can do to perhaps turn the conversation around. Maybe there is nothing that can be done and the internet is ruined. Maybe we can't get rid of all the fake news and conspiracy theories and hatred. Maybe this will just continue to grow. Maybe ever more people will think, Well it must be true, it's on Facebook! However, I need a little hope right now and would like to think there is something we can do to try to change things for the better. Anyone have any ideas? 
Profile Image for Neil Griffin.
190 reviews17 followers
October 12, 2019
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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,401 followers
October 14, 2019
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 more 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 more 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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,023 reviews4,065 followers
December 3, 2021
As someone increasingly radicalised to spend hours and minutes mocking the radicalised alt-right, I was surprised at how much of the information in this book had already permeated my fortress of fash. Something of a sprawling hotchpotch of case studies, laments on the arrogance of tech-libertarians, and gonzo reportage of Trump-licking events, the book skilfully tries to navigate a coherent path through an extremely complex and incoherent period, where the utopian dream of a self-regulating internet swiftly crashed into reality’s face like a burning fokker of lies. Marantz spends time with two particularly unpleasant morons—Mike Cernovich, an egocentric crank who ranks among the worst grifters to leap on the Trump train, and Mike Enoch (some Mikes, I assume, are good people), an unhappy driftless sod who turned to anti-Semitic trolling and outright Nazi endorsement as a way of enacting some warped psychodrama taking place in his own foggy mental caverns. As with most of these stories, the end result is that America needs to spend more time on the psychiatric couch. If these lost, directionless people spent less money donating to alt-right Patreons and more on therapy, America might halt its inevitable decline into bloody apartheid and Trumpian fascism. Sad!
Profile Image for Sandra.
246 reviews66 followers
November 25, 2019
We are presented with a torturously detailed narration centered around the usual suspects, Deplorable Twitter personalities, and written by (who better than) someone who truly detests them, and is not too shy to say it. In some instances, he straight out assumes someone's internal feelings and thoughts. Conjectures abound. To make it worse, it also feels like this was written by and for someone who cannot or does not care to distinguish sinister from intentional trolling or shallow and egotistical self-promotion.

My overall rating does not reflect the level of agreement or disagreement with the general gist of the book, but the fact that in my view, this is one big sermon meant for the already converted, so they can gasp in horror at the despicables, and feel good about their own virtue and signal, not to mention be deeply pessimistic about the future (I'm right there with them on the last one).

Also, if you have been somewhat active on Twitter in the past 3 or so years, you will learn absolutely nothing new, events and personalities wise. You will learn a lot of details about the events our author attended, some completely irrelevant to the topic, except that they illustrate shallowness, contradictions and vapidity of the targets of the author's scorn. Between all those things are generous offerings of the author's interpretations, conjectures, generalizations and boogeymen. It might be a mistake on my part, but as I read this book, I kept being reminded of my own brush with a journalist on a mission to write a story she wanted, with all the conclusions already concluded before she even started. When I read her interpretations of a few things I said, I found them mildly to severely misrepresented, to the point that one of my main arguments was stated as the exact opposite (the opposite that agreed with the journalist's theme of the piece). It didn't help that I disagreed with a number of Mr Marantz's observations, based on my personal familiarity with the events or (pretty minor, but still) personalities. For better or for worse, the whole thing seems to have spoiled my ability to enjoy this kind of books.

If you are here for the author offering any deeper, more comprehensive or somewhat original insights into the people he covers, you're out of luck. Rather, expect an extensive, exhaustive (and exhausting), literary, well written, and unfortunately predictable view of a select part of the mess that political social media space is. The Overton Window hasn't shifted, it shattered into many pieces, and we no longer all see the shared version of the world being reflected back at us.

For open minded people, The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics is a far better read.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
October 19, 2019
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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for James.
597 reviews14 followers
December 7, 2019
When I first read Marantz' "The Virologist" four years ago I was immediately hooked. He became one of the New Yorker writers I was most interested in, along with Hua Hsu, Jia Tolentino, and Emily Nussbaum. They were all fluent in the contradictions and strangeness of the modern world and wrote with a joyous realism about how you could get pleasure from the products of late capitalism while deeply questioning it.

I'm listening to Burial's "Tunes 2011-2019" right now on Hsu's recommendation and it's reminding me how much I love modern music and modern art. I will always be a sucker for some authors of the late 19th and early 20th century, but I like to stay engaged with the present, sniffing for what might be the most exciting cultural products, the things we see as defining of this historical moment a decade or a century from now.

If you aren't interested in the present moment, you won't like "Antisocial." You won't get it. You won't understand why Marantz included the details about how his articles created a new genre of New Yorker article, the "Annals of Media." It's what Hsu and Toletino and Nussbaum are all writing about, in some way: the medium and the message, twined together like a fiber optic cable, so fine and delicate that two can never be untwined.

I teach high schoolers who spend much of their waking hours on social media and in the dark corners of the internet. One of my current students researches World War II battles and the Crimean War on wikipedia all night and asks me about the Barbary Pirates in the morning. Sometimes he talks about the federal deficit and trolling the libs. I worry about him, try to bring him into the world of human contact. Some of his family is undocumented but he was born in the U.S. This identity, like the fact that Mike Cernovich's wife is from Iran or that the author of The Daily Shoah had a Jewish girlfriend insulate him from becoming a member of the alt right. His disgust with identity politics and virtue signaling continues to deepen. He hasn't been particularly successful in school despite his vast ability to memorize weird facts. I want him to turn towards socialism, towards organizing, towards a concern for his community, but the metaverse of conspiracy and blank irony seem to be sinking their hooks deeper into him every day.

Last week a nonprofit from near our school ran an assembly encouraging students to apply to their program. The founder of the nonprofit worked in investment banking and then moved here to work at a tech startup. She joined a mentoring organization and began to mentor a student at another high school near ours. She learned that the student couldn't study at home because she was constantly relied on to take care of her siblings. So she founded this nonprofit that picks up poor students at schools like ours and drives them to tech offices after school to do their homework. They eat tech company snacks and sit in conference rooms that are unused for 99% of the day and then go home and live in the same poverty that our country has damned people to for three hundred years.

She spoke in glowing tones about the five tech companies that are hosting her program. They all make bullshit products. After the presentation the teachers at my school were SO EXCITED about this amazing opportunity. And all I could think about was Marantz's book. While rich tech entrepreneurs create nonprofits to fill needs that don't exist, filling guilt holes with patronizing bullshit, the alt right and the alt light use the same technology to give people a new sense of meaning and identity. This meaning and identity is based on its own baroque bullshit but it's a bullshit that is going to convince many more people that the meritocractic neoliberal consensus.

Anyway, if you've been reading the New Yorker for the last five years, you're going to recognize many of these articles, but Marantz skillfully recontextualizes them. He follows up with the chillingly eager former journalist turned clickbait office drone from "The Virologist" in a wonderful footnote in the chapter that features the original story. She describes her time in clickbait land as part of a massive denial of her own disgust with people like Spartz. Her disgust should mimic our own. The last five years in the Annals of Media have had their strange pleasures, but we are swiftly building an internet and a society full of contradiction, anger, and fear.
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews409 followers
February 25, 2020
24th book of 2020.

This is the story of jewish Brooklyn New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz's three years hanging out with various online influencers of the Alt-Right. While the book was excellent at fleshing out various biographies, but fails to go much deeper. While the Charlottesville rally and killing of Heather Heyer rightly gets a fair amount of coverage, little or nothing is discussed about other events occurring contemporaneously, such as the caging of children on the Southern border.

Profile Image for Ryan.
990 reviews
January 9, 2021
Is the internet a superhighway of information or just another mono-rail, the track about to bend? After reading Andrew Marantz's Antisocial, I think it will become what we act to make it become.

Who runs the media? I don't mean that in a creepy conspiracy theory way. I mean what corporations own the news, magazines, and websites? For example, Conde Nast Publications owns GQ, The New Yorker, Vogue, and Wired. These media companies also buy websites when they can. The company that owns Gawker also owns Jezebel and The Onion. Other media companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube (owned by Google), are buying after starting on the internet. Perhaps the most famous example is The Washington Post, which was bought by the owner of Amazon.com. Do these companies have a responsibility to assess what they publish or should these platforms be homes of unfettered free speech?

Newspapers, as I knew them as a kid, were edited, but Marantz suggests that many of these new social media platforms were initially guided by techno-utopian ideals in which whatever could go viral was good because it was democratic. Is this admirable or amoral? Since 2016, the techno-utopian free speech argument now seems neither admirable nor amoral but instead immoral and destructive. At one point, Marantz speaks with alt-right people who begin to interpret 2016 as a conflict between the “article and the comments section.” (The "article" has gatekeepers but the "comments" are democratic and free—they're also often disgusting.) For better or worse, the publishing houses that produce "articles" are financially bombarded at the moment and their influence seems to be waning. The New Yorker has 18 fact checkers, but when is the last time one of their articles went viral?

So is it a utopian superhighway or a dystopian mono-rail? The alt-right trolls have profited from social media. That sounds a bit mono-rail to me. Then again, public awareness campaigns about depression and anxiety, ordering books online from my library, and the fact that many LGBT kids have found compassionate guidance (the "it gets better" campaign from a few years ago seemed important) from online communities are gains. Marantz suggests that the long arc of history will bend toward justice, if we work for that goal. The most powerful group in these website communities is actually the techno-utopian owners. I note, based on Marantz's description of Reddit, that the tech companies know exactly where their toxic communities are and can delete them, literally, with the click of a button.

Additional takeaways. First, we should be mostly skeptical of virality. It feeds on activating emotions like anger and outrage rather than deactivating emotions like confusion and thoughtful reflection. Second, we should also express greater appreciation for editors and gatekeepers, even if they can be annoying. Reddit, for example, seems to have become a better place by banning hate sites and by empowering moderators to watch over its comments sections. Third, it would be useful if we had distinguishing language for websites. For example, we used to distinguish newspapers from tabloids, a handy distinction. Marantz occasionally describes certain online outrage generators as "tabloids," and I think I will follow his lead. Finally, at some margin we come out ahead understanding our world through books rather than memes and through conversations rather than tweet storms.

It's also possible that we should all read more books written by staff writers from The New Yorker. Antisocial is the second excellent work I've read in the past month by one of their writers.

*Update* Wikipedia will no longer accept Fox News as a generally reliable source for politics and science. Facebook will, and their "fact checker" organization is considered by Wikipedia to be less reliable than Fox... Still, a step in the right direction. Source: https://www.wired.com/story/why-wikip...

*Update 2* Facebook moves to ban Qanon. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/8/19/...

*Update 3* Twitter and Facebook ban Donald Trump after he encourages his followers to attack the American Congress. The right decision, imho, but there's also a bit of "too little too late" for my preference.

Twitter makes the ban permanent: https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics...

Profile Image for J.S. Nelson.
Author 1 book43 followers
July 1, 2021
I just watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix & that is also an eye-opener!

June 2021 added note: I believe Mr. Steffen sums it up quite accurately in his 1929 article 'How I Created A Crime Wave,' which also explains various issues going on in our nation today. (highlights below) After writing the news for three years, this is, unfortunately, still true.

“Every now and then there occurs the phenomenon called a crime wave. New York has such waves periodically; other cities have them; and they sweep over the public and nearly drown the lawyers, judges, preachers and other leading citizens who feel that they must explain and cure these extraordinary outbreaks of lawlessness. Their diagnoses and their remedies are always the same: the disease is lawlessness; the cure is more law, more arrests, swifter trials and harder penalties. The sociologists and other scientists go deeper into the wave; the trouble with them is they do not come up. I enjoy crime waves.
“I made one once; I was a reporter on the New York Evening Post. Jacob A. Riis helped; he was a reporter on the Evening Sun. Many other reporters joined in the uplift of that rising tide of crime, but it was my creation, that wave, and Theodore Roosevelt stopped it. He was the President of the Police Board. But even he had to get Riis and me to stop the wave. I feel, therefore, that I know something the wise men do not know about crime waves, and so get a certain sense of happy superiority out of reading editorials, sermons, and speeches on my specialty. It was this way:
“The basement of the old police headquarters was a cool place in summer, and detectives, prisoners and we reporters used to sit together down there and gossip or doze or play cards. Good stories of the underworld were told - true stories.”
“The morning papers not only rewrote ours, they had crimes of their own, which they grouped to show that there was a crime wave.
“It was indeed one of the worst crime waves I ever witnessed, and the explanations were embarrassing to the Reform Police Board which my paper and my friends were supporting in their difficult reform work. The opposition papers, Tammany and the unreformed police officers, rejoiced in the outbreak of crime, which showed that the reformed police, and especially the new detective service, could not deal with the criminals. The outbreak of crimes all over the city so alarmed Roosevelt that he was almost persuaded that the opposition was right in its criticism. He called a secret meeting of the Police Board and was making one of his picturesque harangues, when Commissioner Parker interrupted him. ‘Mr. President, you can stop this crime wave whenever you want to.’
‘I! How?’
“‘Call off your friends Riis and Steffens. They started it and - they’re sick of it. They’ll be glad to quit if you’ll ask them to.’
“Roosevelt was perplexed. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said.
“Parker explained that when the crime wave was running high he inquired into it, not as the editorial writers did: he asked for the police records of crimes and arrests. These showed no increase at all; on the contrary, the total crimes showed a diminution and the arrests an increase. It was only the newspaper reports of crimes that had increased; there was a wave of publicity only.”
“Riis told him about it: how I got him called down by printing a beat, and he had to get even. And did. ‘I beat the pot out of you,’ he boasted to me, his pride reviving. ‘And I can go right on doing it. I can get half-a-dozen crimes a day if I must, or a dozen. I can get all there are every day.’
“Thus the crime wave was ended. T.R. took pleasure in telling Parker that he had deleted not only the wave, but the source of the wave, which was in Parker’s department. He would not say what it was. Parker had to resolve that mystery by learning from the chief of detectives that the President had ordered the daily crime file removed from the public to his inner office.”
How I made a crime wave Lincoln Steffens in the Bookman 12/1928
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,155 reviews150 followers
October 30, 2019
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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Mindo'ermatter.
444 reviews9 followers
October 23, 2019
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 more credible had the author also examined other social media abusers.

A more honest title would have included the adjective "Alt-Right" to modify "Extremists."
Profile Image for Turkey Hash.
175 reviews38 followers
October 3, 2020
Feeling a bit nauseous - can’t even imagine the mental scrubbing Marantz must have done after writing this :/
Profile Image for Matt Schiavenza.
189 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2019
Who is the alt-right? They're conservative extremists, sure, and most are outright racists and anti-Semites. They hate political correctness. They despise feminism. They think the general idea of America — that it is a multiracial social democracy — is a load of shit. And they now have a champion in the White House in Donald Trump.

The members of the alt-right profiled in Andrew Marantz's fascinating book anti-social are less driven by ideology than by a searing desire to reject conventional norms of what's acceptable and what's not. Marantz takes us to southern California, where Mike Cernovich, a former lawyer, has established himself as a popular right-wing personality in between hawking books about fitness and diet. We meet Mike Enoch, a shy, struggling from an upstanding liberal family who rose to internet fame as a neo-Nazi — under the nose of his Jewish wife. There's Cassandra Fairbanks, a former Bernie Sanders supporter who switched to Trump due more to his fuck-you iconoclasm than to any of his policies. Gavin MacInnes, a Vice co-founder, runs an outfit called the Proud Boys that consist mostly of angry white men getting hammered and starting fights. Laura Loomer distinguished herself through spectacularly hard-to-watch stunts like chaining herself to Twitter's New York offices after the company deleted her account. (It didn't work).

Such people have always been with us. But now they have a platform. Marantz weaves the story of Trump's alt-right misfits with that of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, whose free-flowing fora have eroded the power of traditional gatekeepers. People like Cernovich, Jack Posobiec, and Milo Yiannopolous don't just have extreme views — they're also skillful practitioners of new media, comfortable in the milieu of Periscope and Facebook Live and podcasting. (In one funny moment of Antisocial, Cernovich gently chides Marantz for ruining a potentially viral photo by not using the right filter or writing a clever enough caption). Mark Zuckerberg has tried, with increasingly less success, to divest himself of this problem, claiming that unfettered connectivity is good for the world. But other tech execs are less sure. Reddit's Steve Huffman, for instance, found himself censoring the famously anarchic web community he created because his conscience could no longer take it.

There's a lot of daylight between Mark Zuckerberg and Mike Cernovich. (Ironically, Cernovich grew rich after his first wife, a Facebook employee, cashed in their stock options.) Zuckerberg speaks of an earnest desire to benefit the world through hyper-connectivity; Cernovich's tendencies are more nihilistic. But the two share a disdain for traditional media gatekeepers that have shaped public opinion for generations. It's easy to be sympathetic to this — who doesn't hate annoying authority figures? But through reading Marantz's extraordinary book, I gained a greater appreciation for the role these intermediaries play in our culture. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if virality stopped being a sign of success and resumed its place as something worth fearing.
Profile Image for Leo Walsh.
Author 3 books94 followers
April 3, 2020
ANTISOCIAL by New Yorker reporter Andrew Marantz is an interesting near-historical analysis at how a bunch of racist and xenophobic right-wing liars and half-wits banded together to hijack the conversation in America. Using American innovations in social media, these racists, who dubbed themselves "the alt-right" coordinated their lies and trolling campaigns out of the public eye on sites like Reddit, Periscope, and 8-chan. Once coordinated, this army of unemployed, right-wing libertarian anarchists would unleash their deplorable nonsense on the unsuspecting world via more established social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Nothing in ANTISOCIAL is new, but it is a well-thought-out retrospective, pulling together key threads of historical event and give those events the coherence that only perspective brings. He chooses some key figures and tells their stories in-depth—mostly the better known in the alt-tight, like Mike Cernovich, Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnes, and Cassandra Fairbanks. Marantz traces the origin and techniques of their trolling through the 2016 election cycle. He even tackles the scarier fringe of the hard-right movement, like outright fascist Mike Enoch.

But instead of just pointing out that these fools are bad people, Marantz does a nice job tying their success back to the techno-utopian views of Silicon Valley founders, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and Reddit co-founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian. These guys became billionaires in their twenties and lacked the judgment to act as gatekeepers. Instead, through techno-optimism, where they'd spout silly "truisms" like "information wants to be free" and "disintermediation is democracy," they failed to put into place sufficient checks on their sites. This allowed hard-right trolls to "hack" the social media platform's algorithms to spread disinformation, easily-debunked lies, racism, and antisemitism.

All told, an interesting read for anyone moderately interested in politics, communications technology or recent history. Four stars.
Profile Image for Jon-Erik.
168 reviews39 followers
November 9, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,041 reviews33 followers
March 29, 2020
I read this to complete a loose trilogy on social media, fake news, and the Rancid Right. (The others were Michiko Kakutani’s The Death of Truth and Peter Pomerantsev’s This Is Not Propaganda.) This is touted as a work of immersion journalism but really doesn’t feel like it. That was perhaps the biggest disappointment.

Others have diagnosed the same problems as the author - how rapidly fake news is spread and knowingly, how people are marooned from reality by algorithms, the constant parade of emotion in place of fact, the nihilism, the thuggery oh-so thinly veiled with irony. An immersion journalist’s job is to put us in the scene and give us the flesh-and-blood, boots-on-the-ground examples that bring the bigger issues to life. These needed to be the book’s strongest parts. Instead, they felt like the weakest.

A missed opportunity.
Profile Image for Jason Sullivan.
37 reviews10 followers
December 25, 2019
The themes of Antisocial are probably familiar to anyone who's spent more than 20 minutes on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit in the past 5 years, but the interviews and other details that come from Marantz having been embedded with the techbros and "deplorables" are still fascinating. The failure to connect the toxicity of the alt-right to extremists of other ideologies, who have adopted a lot of the same tactics and vocabulary, seems like a missed opportunity though. And it was super awkward to learn from this book that a former acquaintance of mine is now an organizer for the "alt-lite."
Profile Image for Michele.
617 reviews168 followers
January 3, 2023
A great summation of The Brain-Dead Megaphone that is social media, and why it's next to impossible to fix it. Written in 2019, everything the author says has only become more true. And more depressing. Still, a good analysis and a compelling read.
Profile Image for vanessa.
981 reviews150 followers
February 17, 2020
Well, I'm depressed now. Marantz's book looks into the alt-right & alt-lite movement, interviewing many actors we've seen bubble up on social media (Mike Cernovich, Gavin McIness, Laura Loomer, etc.). Marantz focuses less on the neo-Nazis and more on the contrarians/free-speech absolutists with views many would still consider discreditable. I think parts of this book are bloated or repetitive - I really did not need to know that much about the personal lives of these people. But I really did learn a new vocabulary to describe these movements.

One is the Sailer strategy, which is different than the Southern strategy (appealing to racism in coded terms). The Sailer strategy basically advocates that politicians can stop using dog whistles and can say the actual thing they mean because it will not lose them votes with sensitive/moderate voters (as seen in the 2016 election).

Another is the Overton window, which is the range of ideas politicians are comfortable supporting or condemning. This is something that has changed radically in the age of social media and memefication - it almost seems like nothing is off the table of political discourse these days and alt-right figures want to continue pushing these boundaries.

The third is the phrase activating emotion. This is a big one for me. Obviously, we know when we read anything on social media, the thing that makes us feel anger or fear or disgust is more likely to cause us to click, read, and share our outrage. These shares/clicks/engagement bring more light to the reprehensible people espousing these views, which brings them new followers. They do not lose on this part; shame means nothing to them. The challenge to myself since I started reading this book and for the next year is to look at Twitter/Instagram/etc. differently when it comes to activating emotion. If something incites an activating emotion for me, I want to be more reticent to give it attention.

Finally, the whole discussion of the techno-utopians (the start of Reddit, Facebook, and other platforms) was super fascinating. These were just college-aged kids who were (and still are as 40-somethings) unable to wield power over their techno-utopian creations a la Frankenstein's monster. Ah, I think it's likely things will only get worse from here re: trolls, shitposting, and pushing the boundaries of what views are acceptable in the mainstream.
Profile Image for Monita Mohan.
729 reviews13 followers
February 19, 2020
I doubt I would have found this book were it not for the online library. Certainly an arresting subject matter though I am most amazed at the author’s ability to maintain his sanity while being embedded with the alt-right. I like that he doesn’t try and sugarcoat their rhetoric, nor is he forgiving of them. He provides a rounded outlook on all the people featured in the book.

It amazes me that anyone would think this way and that in today’s world you can get away with and get popular by thinking and talking as these people do.

If this was a work of fiction, none of us would believe it. But these people are real and a worrying trend. The author remains hopeful by the end of the book but his faith in humanity may be misplaced.
492 reviews14 followers
August 11, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Annarella.
10.9k reviews105 followers
October 6, 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.
Profile Image for Ryan Mishap.
3,355 reviews60 followers
March 7, 2020
Sigh. This is an essential book for to understand our current reality, but, damn, I got sick of reading about these fucking right-wing trolls by the end.

Amidst the descriptions of the depraved individuals and the garbage they spew, there is a larger narrative about rights and responsibilities and the bullshit libertarian techno-dream of Silicon Valley.
Profile Image for Hannah.
359 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2020
Really important for anyone who spends time thinking about the future of media, the internet, and politics. Or for like anyone.

Marantz is pretty funny which was great because the content of this book was mostly BLEAK.
39 reviews
February 7, 2021
I've cut down the amount of political nonfiction books I read, because for many of them, I conclude a 5-10,000 word longread would have sufficed. This wasn't an exception, but it was fairly enlightening - and disheartening.

If we want to fix the rightward lurch of this country, we need to just turn off social media. Yes, I'm sure they've brought good and community to many people, but the jury is in and they've brought far more harm. No longer do you need credentials, experience, or education to have your voice or position amplified; you can be literally anyone who has figured out the trick to virality, and in case you haven't noticed, virality doesn't typically reward the nuance and thorough analysis we find from reputable sources.

The author, The New Yorker's Andrew Marantz, spent hundreds of hours with the leaders of the alt-right, who shepherded Donald Trump's rise to the White House, and with so-called techno-utopians, who naively believe giving people ever more open platforms to say and do what they want will bring about some kind of paradisal global renaissance, instead of turning everything, including lower-case liberalism, into an enormous dumpster fire. I'm not sure I needed to spend 30 pages at a time with the likes of Mike Cernovich or Milo Yiannopoulos, but it was fascinating to see just how easily they hi-jacked the new media and, to coin Steve Bannon, learned to "flood the zone with shit." Also, these people are blatantly racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic, though seem fairly comfortable sharing the company of LGBT people (as long as they're white), such as Yiannopoulos, Lucian Wintrich, and Chelsea Manning.

This book was at it's best when it was exploring the tools and systems that made the rise of the alt-right, "fake news", and President Donald Trump possible. The naivety, ignorance, and dereliction of duty from the big tech CEOs has done more than bring us waves of toxic, racist trolls, it has potentially brought the decline of democracy. While some sites, like Twitter and Reddit, have taken steps to stem the tide against fake news and toxic communities, it's probably too little, too late. The old political and media establishments, and moderate and liberal citizens bear some blame too. While we were busy getting our degrees and living it up in the cities, we missed just how badly the hinterlands were festering. While we thought we were looking at a new dawn of progress and justice during the Obama years, Republicans - most of them, not just a small fringe as we thought - were getting drunk on Jim Beam, downing pills, listening to Alex Jones, and spending hours Googling racist and anti-Semitic jokes (yes, there are studies of this).

Anyway, it was a good book. I learned a lot. But could you learn just as much from a longread on the subject? Probably.
Profile Image for Jesse Wells.
25 reviews1 follower
February 16, 2022
Antisocial was an interesting read overall. There were parts of this book that I found to be extremely interesting, such as examples of how different people became radicalized into the alt-right, and other sections I personally found to be somewhat of a slog. That is partially due to my forced interest (it is not a subject I particularly find interesting and I dislike in many ways, but I have forced myself to learn some about due to the impact it has on the modern world) in much of the Silicon Valley and tech industry. These were necessary sections in a book largely about the role that social media has begun to play in the political climate and I'm sure other people found them much more interesting than I did, it is just a personal dislike on my part. I also felt that the book threw out a lot of information without much analysis of said information. Much of the information isn't too difficult to analyze yourself as you go, but I feel that it may have benefited the book in places to throw in a bit of analysis. My other main criticism is the overuse of footnotes in this book. I think footnotes have their place, but when there are sections of a book that feel like you're reading more footnotes than main text that's a bit of a problem.

Despite this book only having come out in 2019, it's amazing how much more prominent this issue became over the course of even the year after its release. Back in 2016 it seemed like a really important issue, little did we know that a little over 4 years later a group of the people described in this book would storm the Capitol in a half-assed and fatal attempt at an insurrection. What a world we live in.

3.5/5 stars
Profile Image for Bruce.
209 reviews3 followers
January 30, 2020
In his Prologue, Andrew Marantz quotes President John F. Kennedy who wrote, "There have always been those on the fringes of our society who have sought to escape their own responsibility by finding a simple solution, an appealing slogan, or a convenient scapegoat, . . . . But in time the basic good sense and stability of the great American consensus has always prevailed." In our current, media-saturated society Anti-Social calls JFK's conclusion into question. It is an equally fascinating and scary look at the out-sized influence that social media platforms have given to people with extremist views: far right (alt-right) ultra libertarians, white nationalists/supremacists, nihilistic trolls who just want to watch the world burn; and some of our well-known social media tech companies that, until recently, have had basically a hands-off policy.

Marantz is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the book reads like an extended piece of reporting in that magazine. Anti-Social ends on a semi-optimistic note indicating that the pendulum may be swinging back as tech companies are now more actively working to clamp down on unbridled, anything goes, intentionally false hate speech. Nevertheless, for Marantz, the jury is still out and he interjects in several places his observation that the moral arc of the universe bends the way people bend it.
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