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The Inside Story
Borrow Borrow Borrow
"Levy's all-access Facebook reflects the reputational swan dive of its subject. . . . The result is evenhanded and devastating."—San Francisco Chronicle

"[Levy's] evenhanded conclusions are still damning."—Reason

"[He] doesn't shy from asking the tough questions."—The Washington Post

"Reminds you the HBO show Silicon Valley did not have to reach far for its satire."—NPR.org

The definitive history, packed with untold stories, of one of America's most controversial and powerful companies: Facebook
As a college sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg created a simple website to serve as a campus social network.

Today, Facebook is nearly unrecognizable from its first, modest iteration. In light of recent controversies surrounding election-influencing "fake news" accounts, the handling of its users' personal data, and growing discontent with the actions of its founder and CEO—who has enormous power over what the world sees and says—never has a company been more central to the national conversation.

Millions of words have been written about Facebook, but no one has told the complete story, documenting its ascendancy and missteps. There is no denying the power and omnipresence of Facebook in American daily life, or the imperative of this book to document the unchecked power and shocking techniques of the company, from growing at all costs to outmaneuvering its biggest rivals to acquire WhatsApp and Instagram to developing a platform so addictive even some of its own are now beginning to realize its dangers.
Based on hundreds of interviews inside and outside the company, Levy's sweeping narrative of incredible entrepreneurial success and failure digs deep into the whole story of the company that has changed the world and reaped the consequences.
"Levy's all-access Facebook reflects the reputational swan dive of its subject. . . . The result is evenhanded and devastating."—San Francisco Chronicle

"[Levy's] evenhanded conclusions are still damning."—Reason

"[He] doesn't shy from asking the tough questions."—The Washington Post

"Reminds you the HBO show Silicon Valley did not have to reach far for its satire."—NPR.org

The definitive history, packed with untold stories, of one of America's most controversial and powerful companies: Facebook
As a college sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg created a simple website to serve as a campus social network.

Today, Facebook is nearly unrecognizable from its first, modest iteration. In light of recent controversies surrounding election-influencing "fake news" accounts, the handling of its users' personal data, and growing discontent with the actions of its founder and CEO—who has enormous power over what the world sees and says—never has a company been more central to the national conversation.

Millions of words have been written about Facebook, but no one has told the complete story, documenting its ascendancy and missteps. There is no denying the power and omnipresence of Facebook in American daily life, or the imperative of this book to document the unchecked power and shocking techniques of the company, from growing at all costs to outmaneuvering its biggest rivals to acquire WhatsApp and Instagram to developing a platform so addictive even some of its own are now beginning to realize its dangers.
Based on hundreds of interviews inside and outside the company, Levy's sweeping narrative of incredible entrepreneurial success and failure digs deep into the whole story of the company that has changed the world and reaped the consequences.
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  • From the book

    1

    ZuckNet

    On a chilly night in January 1997, a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer recently turned entrepreneur named Andrew Weinreich addressed a small crowd of investors, journalists, and friends at the Puck Building in New York City's SoHo district and tried to explain what online social networking was, why the product he was announcing was the first example, and how the concept would change the world. It was a heavy lift.

    Weinreich had come up with the concept as his contribution to a weekly meeting of would-be start-up founders who got together soon after the first wave of Internet companies like Yahoo!, Amazon, and eBay appeared. They would try to identify business ideas that were possible for the first time ever because of the net. Weinreich came up with an idea based around the concept of people volunteering information about their interests, their jobs, and their connections. He asked himself: What if I could get everyone to index their relationships in a single place?

    He called his company sixdegrees, based on a concept that everyone on the planet was only six connections away from anyone else. Weinreich thought it was something Guglielmo Marconi had first stated, but actually it was a Hungarian writer named Frigyes Karinthy. In a short story called "Chain-Links," the writer assessed this huge shift.

    Planet Earth has never been as tiny as it is now. It shrunk-relatively speaking of course-due to the quickening pulse of both physical and verbal communication. This topic has come up before, but we had never framed it quite this way. We never talked about the fact that anyone on Earth, at my or anyone's will, can now learn in just a few minutes what I think or do, and what I want or what I would like to do.

    Hard to believe he wrote this in 1929! Karinthy's characters in this short piece tried an experiment-to see if a chain of connections could connect them to any random human among the (then) world population of 1.5 billion with only five personal introductions, beginning with one's personal network of friends and then proceeding to the next person's introduction. In the story, one of the subjects-a Hungarian intellectual like the author-met the challenge of making the connection to a random riveter at the Ford Motor Company. Karinthy's concept kicked around the social-science world for some decades until some researchers in the 1960s and '70s tried to prove it with the limited computer power of their time. In 1967, sociologist Stanley Milgram published a Psychology Today article on what was then called the "small world problem." In a study published two years later, he and his coauthor tried to connect random people in Nebraska with those in Boston and found that "the mean number of intermediaries between starters and targets is 5.2." In 1990, the concept would gain wide cultural currency when playwright John Guare used it to illuminate his eponymous play, Six Degrees of Separation, adapted for film in 1993.

    Weinreich's implementation, though inspired by the Six Degrees theory, actually concentrated on two or three degrees of separation. "More often than not, I can meet the people I don't know through those I do know," he told the crowd at the Puck Building. For centuries, people have been using their friends and acquaintances to make such connections, but it had always been hit or miss. "Today we hope to change that," he promised, "with a free, web-based networking service." He compared it to putting your Rolodex online-and connecting to everyone else's Rolodex. "If everyone uploads their Rolodex, you should be able to traverse the world," he gushed.

    On that...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 6, 2020
    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.

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2020
    Wired editor at large and longtime tech reporter Levy (In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, 2011, etc.) explores the inner workings of the social media giant. While attending Harvard, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg "took a laissez-faire attitude toward classes" while deep within projects such as Course Match, which allowed students to see who was signed up for which classes--good for those seeking candidates for a winning study group, one might say, but also a fine tool for a stalker. Levy explores the morally neutral world that Zuckerberg built with Facebook, an enterprise whose every technological feature disguises means to gather salable data on the user's movements, preferences, political leanings, and the like. Those features, of course, have put Facebook very much in the news as a vehicle for delivering "fake news." As one advertising executive noted, looking at the growth of "ruble-denominated accounts" surrounding the 2016 presidential election, "it was one hundred percent knowable that [the Russians] would use social media in this way." Defending himself in the wake of the massive data mining undertaken by companies such as Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg has retreated behind the shield of free expression, though belatedly acknowledging that consumers might not want their private data to be so easily accessed. "For the past twelve years," writes Levy of the choice between more or less privacy, "Zuckerberg had been ranking those values incorrectly." For all his criticisms, the author, who enjoyed free access to Zuckerberg, is less dismissive of Facebook and its intentions than Roger McNamee, whose book Zucked (2019) condemns the company's demonstrated disregard for its users' rights. If changes for the better come, they'll likely be grudging. Levy makes it clear that Zuckerberg believes in the essential benefit to the world of his mission even if he is "the man who some think has done as much destruction to that world as anyone in the business realm." Of considerable interest to followers of technological trends, futurists, and investors.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    February 1, 2020
    Respected tech writer Levy (In the Plex, 2011) presents the definitive story of Facebook. From Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room in 2004 to Levy's July 2019 interview with him, Levy takes the reader into a detailed history of the world's biggest social networking company. Given unfettered access to Zuckerberg and the company during the last three years, Levy is able to illustrate how the company developed under the influence of Zuckerberg's acknowledged hypercompetitiveness. Levy notes that the company's original motto, Move fast and break things, could have the addendum, and apologize later. The book is divided into three parts. The first details Facebook's early years, including what really happened at Harvard with the Winklevoss twins and others who had competing ideas for the same concept. The second part follows Facebook's heady days of unprecedented growth. Lastly, Levy considers the recent implications of Facebook's use to influence the 2016 election and the public's loss of trust in the company. This absorbing book will inspire important conversations about big tech and privacy in the twenty-first century.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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