Cover image for Antisocial media : how Facebook disconnects us and undermines democracy / Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Antisocial media : how Facebook disconnects us and undermines democracy / Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Title Variants:
Anti-social media
Publication Information:
New York, NY, United States of America : Oxford University Press, [2018]
Physical Description:
276 pages ; 25 cm
Introduction: the problem with Facebook is Facebook -- The pleasure machine -- The surveillance machine -- The attention machine -- The benevolence machine -- The protest machine -- The politics machine -- The disinformation machine -- Conclusion: the nonsense machine.
"If you wanted to build a machine that would distribute propaganda to millions of people, distract them from important issues, energize hatred and bigotry, erode social trust, undermine respectable journalism, foster doubts about science, and engage in massive surveillance all at once, you would make something a lot like Facebook. Of course, none of that was part of the plan. In Antisocial Media, Siva Vaidhyanathan explains how Facebook devolved from an innocent social site hacked together by Harvard students into a force that, while it may make personal life just a little more pleasurable, makes democracy a lot more challenging. It's an account of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit, and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it's an indictment of how "social media" has fostered the deterioration of democratic culture around the world, from facilitating Russian meddling in support of Trump's election to the exploitation of the platform by murderous authoritarians in Burma and the Philippines. Facebook grew out of an ideological commitment to data-driven decision making and logical thinking. Its culture is explicitly tolerant of difference and dissent. Both its market orientation and its labor force are global. It preaches the power of connectivity to change lives for the better. Indeed, no company better represents the dream of a fully connected planet "sharing" words, ideas, and images, and no company has better leveraged those ideas into wealth and influence. Yet no company has contributed more to the global collapse of basic tenets of deliberation and democracy. Both authoritative and trenchant, Antisocial Media shows how Facebook's mission went so wrong." -- Publisher's description


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
302.231 VAI Book Adult General Collection

On Order



One of the signal developments in democratic culture around the world in the past half-decade has been the increasing power of social media to both spread information and shape opinions. After the Arab Spring of 2011, many pointed to the liberating potential of platforms like Facebook andTwitter. Yet five years later, as many Americans reeled in shock from the election of an authoritarian bullshit artist (using philosopher Harry Frank's technical definition of the term), a few perceptive observers began looking at new at the social and political effects of dominant social mediaplatforms, particularly Facebook. And they did not like what they saw.The media studies and IP scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan is one of those sharp observers, and in Anti-Social Media he argues that our descent into dystopia stems in no small part from trends that have developed in the online world. The 2016 election saw a remarkable and dispiriting increase of peoplehiving themselves off within ideological echo chambers and treating fake news as real. Vaidhyanathan provides a structural explanation of why this happened, and he has located a culprit: social media, and more specifically Facebook. The founders of Facebook may have had (some) good intentions, buthe contends that they have created a Frankenstein's monster that they have neither the will nor capacity to rein in. Fake news abounds, and the algorithms that undergird the platform drive people inexorably to news sites that conform to their ideological predilections - which Facebook can figure outwith ease. Serious news reporting, already in a parlous state, has suffered even more as people on platforms like Facebook (meaning most people) are bombarded by both snippets of news from multiple sources and ads that look like news. Deliberative democracies require informed citizenries able todistinguish facts and falsehoods. By weakening those skills, social media is eroding the very foundations of our democratic republican culture. Social media-driven false news campaigns and ideological echo chambers are not only visible in the US, either - they are clearly on the rise in Europe andacross the developing world too. Vaidhyanathan closes by offering offers a number of smart policy proposals that attack the problem, but they will undoubtedly be hard to enact. But the first order of business when facing a significant new crisis is to recognize its existence and explain what it is.Anti-Social Media promises to be that path-breaking initial step toward understanding how social media is quickly undermining not only centuries of democratic progress, but civil society itself.

Author Notes

Siva Vaidhyanathan is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, and author of The Googlization of Everything.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Vaidhyanathan (media studies, Univ. of Virginia; The Googlization of Everything) has written a structured response to the behemoth that is Facebook. He acknowledges all the rhetorically valid ways in which Facebook might offer emotionally fulfilling interactions (the author himself is a user), but he buttresses these emotive motivations with close readings of the filter bubble, monetization of all transactions on the platform, and even the inherent vice of "good" business. He lays out how the very nature of Facebook's advertising structure-that anyone can place ads-and how the rhetoric that drives the platform's ongoing work to fix itself after the 2016 election may themselves be problematic. Vaidhyanathan accomplishes this goal by smartly attaching deliberate meaning to each chapter, with titles such as "The Surveillance Machine" and "The Disinformation Machine." His fantastic style using these heavy-sounding chapters are permeated by the light touches of how fun it is to use Facebook, how pleasant it is to see someone's newest pet pictures, and the simplicity of following the news in one place. The result is an analytically satisfying work that's aware of how real people use the popular platform. Verdict Ideal for readers who live in the world of social media who want to put these platforms into context.-Jesse A. Lambertson, Georgetown Univ. Libs., Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Problem with Facebook Is Facebookp. 1
1 The Pleasure Machinep. 31
2 The Surveillance Machinep. 52
3 The Attention Machinep. 77
4 The Benevolence Machinep. 106
5 The Protest Machinep. 128
6 The Politics Machinep. 146
7 The Disinformation Machinep. 175
Conclusion: The Nonsense Machinep. 196
Acknowledgmentsp. 221
Notesp. 229
Indexp. 267