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.