cover image Facebook: The Inside Story

Facebook: The Inside Story

Steven Levy. Blue Rider, $30 (592p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1315-9

The social-media behemoth Facebook comes across as an idealistic but also shady, exploitative, and increasingly beleaguered entity in this clear-eyed history. Wired editor-at-large Levy (Hackers) treats Facebook largely as a projection of its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, whom he has covered for many years. His Zuckerberg is a talented entrepreneur whose motto, “move fast and break things,” encapsulates a strategy of rapid software development and innovative products; a corporate predator who buys or crushes rivals; an off-putting nerd given to silent, unblinking stares—underlings call them “Eye of Sauron”—as his mental gears grind; a megalomaniac who used to end meetings by yelling, “Domination!”; and a messiah of digital connectedness (that conveniently lets him monetize information on everyone). Levy had extensive access to Facebook employees and paints a revealing and highly critical portrait of the company as it wrangled with charges that it violated users’ privacy by sharing their data with advertisers and political operatives, and served as a vector for manipulative fake news, pro-Trump Russian propaganda, and hate speech. Levy’s critique of Facebook is broad, but not always convincing: he’s hard-pressed to show concretely how Facebook’s privacy breaches have hurt anyone, and he’s dismissive of Zuckerberg’s free speech concerns about censoring Facebook content. Facebook-phobes will enjoy Levy’s rich account of the company’s creepy doings, but his take on Facebook’s social impact smacks more of anxiety than thoughtful analysis. (Feb.)