The book weaves together profiles of online extremists that first appeared in The New Yorker with Marantz’s memorable and often surreal reporting experiences ... The narrative is trenchant and intelligent; wry but not glib; humane but never indulgent. Most of Marantz’s subjects are enraged, resentful and — when it comes to the non-internet parts of their lives — profoundly mediocre. Their appetite for attention is so desperate that it’s both repugnant and poignant ... As disturbing as these specific stories are, what filled me with a creeping sense of dread were the parts of Antisocial that incisively describe how a Darwinian information environment has degraded to the point where it now selects for people who can command the most attention with the fewest scruples.
Forget the decline of gatekeepers. Imagine a world bereft of gates and uncrossable lines, with no discernible rules. That’s the Hadean landscape that has been painted expertly, in dark hues, by Andrew Marantz in his book ... Better him than me, I thought as I read about his encounters with the celebrities of this awful antisocial universe ... All this is what Marantz calls 'American Berserk,' and the damage has been severe on a worldwide scale. Marantz is right to worry ... Unfortunately, he has no real answers, except that all things eventually fall apart ... Still, after his long time hanging with the worst of digital humanity, Marantz appears to believe that the arc of history does bend. To get it to point back to justice, he notes, we will have to do the heavy lifting ourselves. Heave ho.
The repurposing of his New Yorker work at times gives the book a kludgy feel. But the book goes beyond the individual magazine pieces by providing valuable connective tissue that Marantz uses to weave these stories together with history and context. The effect is to inspire a larger contemplation of what the collapse of civil discourse means about our society ... Marantz is above all a storyteller, so his narratives are crucial. He has a keen eye for detail and a deft ability to let readers discover and then ponder the movement’s ironies — and there are many — without hitting them over the head ... The author’s liberal use of asterisks to indicate asides at the bottom of pages can seem distracting at first. But they ultimately form a kind of meta-metaphor: a book about the Internet lets the reader decide whether to navigate away from the text, as in a hyperlink, to get to an ancillary point or return to it later ... Marantz chronicles the outrageous behavior but then, mercifully, elevates the conversation ... Our words, after all, do matter, and Marantz makes a compelling argument that they matter more than we think.
Antisocial is on its face an attempt to document how the cynics and demagogues of the contemporary far-right exploited the myopia and self-absorbed utopianism of tech entrepreneurs to marshal political influence ... But the book is perhaps best read as an accidental memoir—a revealing glimpse into how staff writers at The New Yorker understand what’s happening in the world, rather than an especially insightful account of what’s actually happening in the world. This is not to impugn Marantz’s reporting: he is clearly a talented journalist, one able to win the trust of people he finds distasteful or absurd and to write about them in a way that reveals their anxieties, their contradictions, and their picayune spats and resentments. But the conceptual framework Marantz uses to interpret all of this undermines the good reporting that Antisocial contains ... Despite the fact that these ideas—a national vocabulary and national character—are central to Antisocial, Marantz never really bothers to explain what he means by them ... you can admire Marantz for being honest about his subjectivity and position—indeed, this is what is most interesting (and paradoxical) about the book ... Antisocial's focus on how the national discourse has been distorted or corrupted by reactionary grifters and the digital platforms on which they have thrived comes at the expense of an analysis of the material conditions that gave rise to such platforms or made reactionary politics attractive to a certain subset of Americans in the first place ... For a book ostensibly concerned with change, Antisocial lacks a serious theory of how and why it happens.
... [a] breathtaking, page-turning foray into the clash between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and online extremists ... while the title might lead you to expect a dense, academic treatment, Marantz’s narrative is like going along for the ride in a foreign landscape, bouncing into the unknown on a bumpy road ... Marantz has a keen eye for character, and Antisocial sometimes reads like a novel about people with oversize personalities. But his intentions are serious, and ultimately Antisocial is an insightful look at two powerful forces shaping American society ... Traveling with Marantz is indeed a dizzying and often disturbing ride. Depending on what readers know about social media, the characters Marantz encounters may or may not be familiar names. But some of the ideas and positions they espouse are increasingly impossible to ignore ... Whether you use social media or not, Antisocial is an important look at groups that are molding the nation.
... an appealing primer for people who haven’t closely followed the emergence online of a disturbingly influential Far Right reaction, and if nothing else readers will come away knowing the names and strategies of some of the best-known trolls of the past three or four years. But I’m not sure they’ll have a better sense of what’s gone wrong, or how to put it right again ... As a reporter, Marantz is one of the best on this beat, and here he delivers a well-observed, crowd-pleasing scene report and fine introduction to the 'metamedia insurgents' who flit in and out of the book ... the problem is not really that Marantz is playing to an older, establishment-oriented audience. It’s that he’s adopted that audience’s most dubious presuppositions: that the allure of right-wing politics lies naturally in their transgressive thrill, or that the media establishment of the late twentieth century was flawed but preferable to the very different and 'incomparably worse' media environment in which we now live ... These are live issues, about which an enormous amount has been written. Marantz skates by, assured that his audience agrees with the tragic story of the assassination of noble gatekeepers by the coward internet ... The result is a book filled with fine, conscientious, careful reporting in service of only the flimsiest of organizing political or philosophical principles ... In fairness, I don’t myself have a clear, actionable answer to the problems people like Enoch and Samantha pose. But I increasingly suspect that psychological portraiture of the radicalized and alienated may not be particularly useful for developing one ... Profile writing can be useful to the extent that it reveals something larger about the world in which the subject lives; but what Marantz’s profiles often reveal is how unimportant his subjects are as individual humans or characters ... Where Marantz focuses on the attention-seeking bluster of individual personalities, acting within a predetermined framework of fading institutions and cool-kid transgressors, Bernstein and Gais methodically document the close ties between wealthy donors, right-wing extremists, mainstream conservatism, and popular media outlets. These pieces are valuable because they reveal the wealthy, organized structures of reaction lurking behind the myths of social platforms as free marketplaces of ideas. It’s hard to maintain the fiction that there is an opposition between gatekeeping institutions and gate-crashing extremists when you read the emails between them.
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 ... 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.
[Marantz] 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.
Marantz makes a timely and excellent debut ... 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.