Human judgment and morality, in other words, aren’t reducible to instinctual drives that can be manipulated...So we need to ask not just what makes some people susceptible to manipulation, but also what in the mind’s 'wiring' protects others, even in lives saturated with social media...The answer will presumably include education, and will span the range from individual critical thinking skills to the overall quality of the information environment...The lesson of Fisher’s book is surely that we don’t need more celestial inspirations for ambitious projects of human transformation...Rather, we need to make individual members of societies resistant to such efforts...We have the means to do so if the political will is strong enough, and if our political system hasn’t yet been wrecked by the chaos machine.
In less assured hands, this claim might read as hyperbolic and not dissimilar in tenor to the fevered pitch of much online discourse. Fisher, however, is a seasoned journalist who has covered the rise of social media for many years. Unlike online ‘flame wars’ that burn brightly but have the intellectual depth of a puddle, his analysis is well argued, engaging and often necessarily discomforting ... The Chaos Machine’s greatest achievement is perhaps how skilfully it traces seemingly disparate phenomena — Gamergate, QAnon, civil unrest in Myanmar, rising polarisation in the West, thriving anti-vax Facebook groups among many examples — back to the design of social media platforms that prioritise engagement at all costs ... Fisher’s experiences as a journalist with rare access to social media executives is revealing ... joins a stable of modern journalism that captures not only the harms of social media in its current guise but also offers potential solutions. At a time when calls for the regulation of platforms is growing ever louder, Fisher makes an urgent, compelling case for change.
Usually, personally, I’m more fascinated by the badness of the machines—by the evidence that systems like Facebook and YouTube have attained a size and complexity where, even without literal machine consciousness, they now bend human activity to serve their endless growth and other demands. Fisher has brought together years of reporting, from corporate messaging to whistleblower leaks, to document the inexorable perversity of the algorithms ... it’s also true that neither the Khmer Rouge nor the Turks needed Facebook to carry out genocide, and that actual lynch mobs long pre-dated Twitter mobs. Unraveling these causes and effects, inside and outside the algorithmic black boxes, is going to require years of work, with a range of intellectual tools beyond those of the computer programmer or the newspaper reporter ... Still, Fisher has drawn together a chilling record of the events and the cultural and commercial imperatives behind them, and how the perversity of machines and of people, working in tandem, have upended life around the globe.