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Antisocial
Cover of Antisocial
Antisocial
Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
Borrow Borrow
"Trenchant and intelligent." —The New York Times

As seen/heard on NPR, New Yorker Radio Hour, The New York Book Review Podcast, PBS Newshour, CNBC, and more.
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

A New York Times Notable Book of 2019
From a rising star at The New Yorker, a deeply immersive chronicle of how the optimistic entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley set out to create a free and democratic internet—and how the cynical propagandists of the alt-right exploited that freedom to propel the extreme into the mainstream.

For several years, Andrew Marantz, a New Yorker staff writer, has been embedded in two worlds. The first is the world of social-media entrepreneurs, who, acting out of naïvete and reckless ambition, upended all traditional means of receiving and transmitting information. The second is the world of the people he calls "the gate crashers"—the conspiracists, white supremacists, and nihilist trolls who have become experts at using social media to advance their corrosive agenda. Antisocial ranges broadly—from the first mass-printed books to the trending hashtags of the present; from secret gatherings of neo-Fascists to the White House press briefing room—and traces how the unthinkable becomes thinkable, and then how it becomes reality. Combining the keen narrative detail of Bill Buford's Among the Thugs and the sweep of George Packer's The Unwinding, Antisocial reveals how the boundaries between technology, media, and politics have been erased, resulting in a deeply broken informational landscape—the landscape in which we all now live. Marantz shows how alienated young people are led down the rabbit hole of online radicalization, and how fringe ideas spread—from anonymous corners of social media to cable TV to the President's Twitter feed. Marantz also sits with the creators of social media as they start to reckon with the forces they've unleashed. Will they be able to solve the communication crisis they helped bring about, or are their interventions too little too late?
"Trenchant and intelligent." —The New York Times

As seen/heard on NPR, New Yorker Radio Hour, The New York Book Review Podcast, PBS Newshour, CNBC, and more.
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

A New York Times Notable Book of 2019
From a rising star at The New Yorker, a deeply immersive chronicle of how the optimistic entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley set out to create a free and democratic internet—and how the cynical propagandists of the alt-right exploited that freedom to propel the extreme into the mainstream.

For several years, Andrew Marantz, a New Yorker staff writer, has been embedded in two worlds. The first is the world of social-media entrepreneurs, who, acting out of naïvete and reckless ambition, upended all traditional means of receiving and transmitting information. The second is the world of the people he calls "the gate crashers"—the conspiracists, white supremacists, and nihilist trolls who have become experts at using social media to advance their corrosive agenda. Antisocial ranges broadly—from the first mass-printed books to the trending hashtags of the present; from secret gatherings of neo-Fascists to the White House press briefing room—and traces how the unthinkable becomes thinkable, and then how it becomes reality. Combining the keen narrative detail of Bill Buford's Among the Thugs and the sweep of George Packer's The Unwinding, Antisocial reveals how the boundaries between technology, media, and politics have been erased, resulting in a deeply broken informational landscape—the landscape in which we all now live. Marantz shows how alienated young people are led down the rabbit hole of online radicalization, and how fringe ideas spread—from anonymous corners of social media to cable TV to the President's Twitter feed. Marantz also sits with the creators of social media as they start to reckon with the forces they've unleashed. Will they be able to solve the communication crisis they helped bring about, or are their interventions too little too late?
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Chapter One

    This Is America

    The afternoon before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Cassandra Fairbanks was at home, in a brick duplex twenty minutes north of Washington, D.C., getting dressed for the DeploraBall. She answered the door barefoot, wearing a Stars and Stripes manicure, a necklace made from a rifle casing, and a strapless red ball gown with a plunging neckline. "Sorry about the mess," She said. "Everyone always crashes with me when they come to town." A woman in her twenties and two men, both thirty, sat on a pleather couch, surrounded by a moat of camera equipment, staring silently at their phones.

    Fairbanks connected a laptop to her TV and searched YouTube for Bob Dylan. "One of my idols," she said. "One of the last true rebels." She played a clip at random: a radio recording, from 1962, of Dylan performing a folk ballad called "The Death of Emmett Till." Everyone looked up at the TV for a while, even though the image was only a still photograph. "'Cause he was born a black-skinned boy, he was born to die," Dylan sang.

    "I'm so paranoid about my dress falling down," Fairbanks said, hoisting up one side of her decolletage, then the other. A minute later, she added, "I need to finish my makeup," and, dashed upstairs. She was already wearing a good amount of makeup, but not enough to be camera ready. The DeploraBall would be both a party and a media spectacle; there would be crews from various news outlets, and admirers posting group selfies to Instagram, and several social media demicelebrities, Fairbanks among them, who might at any moment start broadcasting to their followers on YouTube or Periscope or Facebook Live. She was dressing not for the people in the room but for the fans at home.

    Fairbanks's puppy, a Yorkie-Chihuahua mix, ran in tight, frantic circles, its paws clacking on the wooden floor. The living room was crowded with knickknacks-hanging lanterns, mirrors in brightly colored frames. A coffee table was strewn with canned Starbucks mochas and packs of American Spirits. The woman on the couch introduced herself as Emily Molli; the two men glanced up briefly, nodded in my general direction, then returned their attention to their phones. I asked their names, to be polite, although I recognized them from YouTube: Luke Rudkowski, lanky and towheaded, and Tim Pool, whose hair I had never seen because he always wore a beanie. Rudkowski and Pool were both one-man media brands, specializing in straight-to-camera punditry and jittery live footage from street demonstrations. (Molli did some camera work for Pool, but he edited, produced, and starred in the videos on his YouTube channel, which he called Timcasts.)

    "I'm here to write about Cassandra," I said. "I'm a journalist."

    "Oh, cool, I'm a journalist, too," Rudkowski said.

    "Yeah, me too," Pool said.

    Molli, now eyeing me more warily, exercised her right to remain silent.

    "This kind of thing still lives today, in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan," Bob Dylan sang.

    Fairbanks came downstairs a few minutes later carrying a sequined clutch, a FREE ASSANGE tote bag, and a transparent poncho, "in case the protesters decide to throw paint on me." Antifascist activists-Antifa, they called themselves-had threatened to shut down the event by any means necessary, including violence, and they had circulated a list of "high-value targets" with Fairbanks's name on it. At other far-right events, she said, leftist agitators had thrown jars of urine and socks loaded with batteries. "Normally, I don't mind run-ins with protesters," she said. "But tonight I'm not in the fucking mood."

    Unlike the Liberty Ball and the Freedom Ball, official...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 19, 2019
    Marantz, a staff writer at the New Yorker, makes a timely and excellent debut with his chronicle of how a “motley cadre of edgelords” gleefully embraced social media to spread their “puerile” brand of white nationalism. In examining how “the unthinkable became thinkable” in American politics, he narrates that tech entrepreneurs disrupted the old ways of vetting and spreading information—including the traditional media of which Marantz identifies himself as a part—but refused to take up a role as gatekeepers, and the white nationalists seeped in like poison. Marantz profiles alt-right figures and tech titans alike: vlogger Cassandra Fairbanks, Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes, antifeminist Mike Cernovich, Reddit founder Steve Huffman (who experimented with gatekeeping by deleting the site’s forum dedicated to the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory), The Filter Bubble author and tech entrepreneur Eli Pariser, and clickbait startup CEO Emerson Spartz, who opines, “If it gets shared, it’s quality.” A running theme is how journalists should cover “a racist movement full of hypocrites and liars,” and, indeed, Marantz doesn’t shy away from asking pointed questions or noting his subjects’ inconsistencies. This insightful and well-crafted book is a must-read account of how quickly the ideas of what’s acceptable public discourse can shift.

  • Library Journal

    August 23, 2019

    New Yorker staff writer Marantz relates his experiences reporting on members of the alt-right. Although the media often portrays the alt-right as a monolithic group, Marantz argues that while these individuals have reasons for their views, their mission is to shift cultural norms to the right. He profiles prominent white supremacists, men's rights activists, and content creators, and shows how their messaging is increasingly normalized under the Trump administration. A powerful passage showcases the journey of one young woman as she became involved with and eventually left various white supremacist groups. Additionally, Marantz muses on the changing nature of journalism and the challenges of countering hateful statements in traditional media. A smaller portion of the book explores the rise of social media and how companies' hands-off approach to regulation enabled the alt-right movement to spread. Marantz takes pains to counter the hateful speech of his subjects but never makes a compelling argument for featuring them in a full-length work. VERDICT A promising but disjointed look into the rise of hate groups, recommended for readers interested in politics, social media, and the intersection of the two.--Rebekah Kati, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2019
    A searching study of the right-wing gate-crashers who have overwhelmed social media in the Trump era. New Yorker staff writer Marantz is fond of Martin Luther King's arc of history/arc of justice trope, though he allows that King himself wasn't quite as optimistic as his famed aphorism might suggest: We bend the arc of history, he notes, and it's pretty twisted at the moment. More to the point is political philosopher Richard Rorty's 20-year-old warning that the decline of progressivism meant that the only political figures "channeling the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed" would be populists on the right. Bingo, and with them, Rorty added, would come the rollback of civil rights gains, to say nothing of heightened misogyny and socially acceptable sadism. Marantz's travels into the camps of those right-wingers at the gates proves Rorty correct, and the author clearly documents their use of social media to advance right-wing causes, leveraging such vehicles as Facebook, whose owner, Mark Zuckerberg, pleaded innocence by insisting "that Facebook was a platform, not a publisher." Some of the figures that Marantz covers are self-serving disrupters who threw verbal grenades into the crowd just to see what would happen. Others are true believers, notably the alt-right figure Richard Spencer, who turns up at odd moments. Some are even more or less reputable journalists who weren't upset to see the "smug little cartel" of the establishment press taken down a few notches by the Trump administration. TV news, "dominated by horse-race politics and missing planes and viral outrage," may be bad, writes Marantz, but what if what comes along next is worse? He makes his own case, wading into the throngs of rightist influencers with some trepidation but no effort to disguise his establishment credentials. It's not a happy picture, but Marantz does offer some hope in the evident splintering of the right as the provocateurs discover that "all memes eventually outlast their utility." Invaluable political reportage in a time of crisis--and with little comfort in sight.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Antisocial
Antisocial
Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
Andrew Marantz
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