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22Sep

The Chaos Machine by Max Fisher review – how social media rewired our world

A stark warning about the extent to which Facebook et al distort our perception of reality

I joined Twitter in the apparently halcyon days of 2009, before Brexit, Sandy Hook denial, Covid-19 conspiracy-mongering, and the livestreaming of police brutality. At that time, it felt like a school playground: you larked about with like-minded individuals, made charming acquaintances and laughed at the antics of the resident show-offs. Maybe, for someone, somewhere, that version of social media still exists. But probably not. Anyone who has ignored the advice of the smugly offline to “never tweet” is aware that a successful afternoon on social media these days is one in which you somehow manage to evade harassment, racism, misogyny, videos of atrocities, or a distant family member’s radicalised rant about, say, the wokification of Waitrose.

Wading through digital sewage is the upfront cost of using these sites. Less obviously, we pay with our attention and creativity, freely providing the content that expands the fortunes of their founders. And yet social media remains an alluring prospect, especially for the lonely, the disfranchised, the frustrated and those who feel alienated from society. It offers a semblance of community, somewhere to belong, the impression of followers who appear to care about you, and, most compellingly,; a place where your views can be validated and reinforced.

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