John Naughton: Antisocial: How Online Extremists Broke America by Andrew Marantz – review

A US journalist infiltrates the toxic world of alt-right ‘news’ peddlers in an absorbing study of online propaganda and its threat to democracy

Andrew Marantz is a staff writer for the New Yorker, and a pretty good one. He’s written a lot of perceptive stuff about the tech industry in recent years. One morning in 2016, he was in his office exploring “a particularly foul part of social media undergrowth”, when the magazine’s editor, David Remnick, came in, looked at the screen and asked: “What the hell is that?” Marantz told him to sit down and watch.

He repeated some of the Facebook searches he’d been doing, bringing up toxic memes and propaganda posts and reading out the “engagement” statistics below each one: 5,000 shares here, 15,000 “Likes” there. Then he pulled up the New Yorker’s Facebook page. A recent landmark piece got just 87 shares; Remnick’s own piece about Aretha Franklin had even fewer – 78 shares. And so on. “I get it,” said the editor. “It’s not auspicious, but where’s the story in it?” Marantz pressed on, exploring the maze of pro-Trump propaganda and viral memes. “What if I could find the people who are peddling this stuff?” he asked. “That could be a story,” Remnick replied.

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John Naughton: Reports of social media’s influence on voters are greatly exaggerated | John Naughton

A new study reveals that traditional outlets online were the most popular for general election news

You know the joke: one dark night, a policeman comes on a drunk rootling around under a street lamp. When asked what he’s doing, the guy says that he’s looking for his car keys. “Is this where you dropped them?” asks the cop. “No,” comes the reply. “Well, then why look for them here?” “Because at least here I can see what I’m doing.”

This joke has often come to mind since 2016 when reading explanations – especially media explanations – of the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. The general tenor is that it was all down to social media, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in particular.

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Dominic Cummings has started to believe he’s cool. What can you say but, ‘Ooooh’? | Marina Hyde

He likes to play badass, but if he’s so ruthless why does the cabinet still contain such mediocrities as Gavin Williamson and Liz Truss?

With regret, I must begin with an apology. As the Westminster-based events of Thursday unfolded, I recalled with mounting horror that I had at one point during 2018 described a Theresa May cabinet as “a government of all the talentless”. As so often over the past few years, this would turn out to be an absolute failure of the imagination. I now realise I was, back then, living through a halcyon era of political accomplishment. Jeremy Hunt, Philip Hammond, even David Davis … those guys were like the Time Lords – or Socratic statesmen, or masters of the Glass Bead Game – compared with what was reshuffled into existence on Thursday.

The only positive discrimination scheme that has long functioned is the one that puts idiots in the cabinet

Related: Boris Johnson’s reshuffle was all about centralising power | Katy Balls

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