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17Jul

An Ugly Truth by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang review – Facebook’s battle for domination

Russian hacking, smear campaigns and livestreamed massacres are the price of Mark Zuckerberg’s quest for connectivity, grippingly probed by two New York Times journalists

How many books are there about Facebook? I’ve lost count. Many of them belong to the genre of the “insider” story – by an early investor in the company, perhaps; or by a supposed intimate of its founder and Supreme Leader; or by an ex-employee with a bad conscience for the societal damage for which he (and it’s always a he, by the way) has been responsible; or (occasionally) by a vigorous critic of social media such as Siva Vaidhyanathan or Franklin Foer.

I’ve read most of these and so approached An Ugly Truth with a degree of scepticism on account of its subtitle: “Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination”. But this book is different. For one thing, its co-authors are not “insiders”, but a pair of experienced New York Times journalists who were members of a team nominated in 2019 for a Pulitzer prize. Much more importantly, though, they claim to have conducted over 1,000 hours of interviews with 400-odd people, including Facebook executives, former and current employees and their families, friends and classmates, plus investors and advisers to Facebook, and lawyers and activists who have been fighting the company for a long time. So if this is an “insider” account, it’s better sourced than all of its predecessors in the genre.

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