Extremism has hijacked the global social media conversation. Most of our lives — not just social life but news and entertainment that form our worldview — is online. The once-beautiful dream of a free internet — now a huge, irredeemable dumpster fire — is increasingly corrupted by conspiracy and propaganda, says Andrew Marantz, New Yorker staff writer and author of “Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.”
Marantz will discuss these crises on Thursday, Feb. 13 at the fourth annual Elizabeth Leibson Holocaust Remembrance Lecture, sponsored by the Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center. He will explore the roots of extremism and manufactured rage, how the unthinkable becomes thinkable, and then becomes reality.
“The original premise of social media was that it was going to bring us all together, make the world more open and tolerant and fair … and it did some of that,” Marantz said in an April TED Talk (https://bit.ly/2vs9ptv). “But the social media algorithms have never been built to distinguish between what’s true or false, what’s good or bad for society, what’s prosocial and what’s antisocial. That’s just not what those algorithms do.” He says what drives conversation online is emotion.
With unprecedented access to the founders of social media platforms, and the trolls and conspiracists who use them to advance toxic agendas, Marantz spent three years writing about how we came to this point. “Anti-Social” (Viking Press) — named one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2019 — tells how boundaries vanished between technology, politics, and media, resulting in a broken information environment, and what we can do about it.
“In my writing, I’m much more comfortable being descriptive, not prescriptive,” he says. But he does share with audiences suggestions for what internet citizens can do to make things less toxic, including skepticism, “making decency cool again,” putting pressure on social networks to fix their platforms, and sharing creative and thoughtful posts that, in the aggregate, alter the algorithms.
“We are taught that the arc of the moral universe is long but that it bends toward justice,” he says. “Maybe it will. But that has always been an aspiration. It is not a guarantee. The arc doesn’t bend itself.”
At the New Yorker since 2011, Marantz first was an editor and then a writer. His main interest is how people form beliefs, and under what circumstances those beliefs can change for the better. He is a contributor to “Radiolab” and “The New Yorker Radio Hour”; has written for Harper’s, Mother Jones, and the New York Times; and has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. He holds an undergraduate degree in religion from Brown University and a master’s degree in literary nonfiction from New York University.
Marantz will speak at the University of Arizona Student Union’s second floor Gallagher Theatre, 1303 E. University Blvd., at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 13. Tickets, including on-campus parking, are available at www.jewishhistorymuseum.org/events or by calling 670-9073. Reserved seating and a 6 p.m. reception with Marantz is $54. General admission is $18.