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"Book Wot I Have Read: Facebook, The Inside Story"

Posted: 26 May, 2020

Book cover

I’ve set myself a challenge to get through a few more books over the course of this year, so I thought I’d write about anything good that bubbles up.

So let’s start with Steven Levy’s all access account about the history of Facebook, cos it’s a doozy.

Facebook’s creation is a well-trod story, and there’s very little in this book that’s going to paint any of it in a better light. MZ is clearly bright, arrogant and possibly on the spectrum. None of which are, in and of themselves, a bad thing. In fact, they can be a super-powers, as MZ demonstrates, doing more than most of us managed at that age by not only getting others to follow his singular vision, but delivering working software that attracts funding.

When I had a house with friends, and we attempted to make a game, we spent the entire time getting stoned and taking acid, so you know, I’m willing to doff my cap at that. In fact, I’d be willing to write off a lot of things that MZ has said and done, because holy-shit I was a twat at that age… But as each chapter unfolds my inclination dwindles.

Companies take on the personality traits of their founders. In Facebook’s case it’s gone further, taking the worst a cis, white, “gifted”, over confident young man can offer, and then wrapping it up in the predatory thinking of VCs. The adults in the room are either blind to the technology implications of what they’re doing, greedy, or both and from the second the advertising as revenue-model decision is made, all pretence at social consciousness (as scribbled in MZ’s notebooks) ring hollow. In reality the company charges toward growth at all costs, and then watches – seemingly dumb-founded — as their shiny toy is abused by Russian bots, the far right and, with their express fucking permission, Cambridge Analytica.

It’s the paralysis and confusion within the company, from the 2016 election on, that I have the least amount of sympathy for. Many of the former employees interviewed are contrite, but the closing chapters aren't painting a picture of a company struggling to turn the oil tanker, just of a leader ducking questions, and doubling down, so it’s odd that when the book stops short of concluding the obvious.

Delete Facebook.

If you don't know much about the company then this is definitely a book worth reading. Ignoring its failures to come to any form of conclusion, it manages to present FB's carefree ascendance and chaotic "fall" in a clinical, "just the facts" kind of way, which is probably about the best you can ask for right now. Personally I can't help thinking that it's a bit of a missed opportunity. Or maybe MZ really is just that aloof...