A useful, data-rich analysis of how we use social media—and how it uses us.



The head of MIT’s Social Analytics lab warns that Facebook and other social media titans are controlling our behavior—and that breaking up the behemoths won’t solve the problem.

In 2018, Aral and two colleagues made headlines when they published a study that found that lies travel faster than truth online. Such attention-grabbing facts abound in this survey of what the author calls “the Hype Machine,” or “the real-time communications ecosystem created by social media,” and how it is changing behavior. As the author shows how social networks use “psychological, economic, and technical hooks” to lock in and manipulate people, he makes some points covered in books such as Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. Aral also includes a fair amount of material that will hold interest mainly for marketers or other professional persuaders—e.g., “Digital ads don’t work nearly as well as they’re advertised.” The author shines, however, when he validates or challenges many popular beliefs about social media. Anyone who fears that Russia might use Facebook to disrupt the 2020 presidential election, he suggests, is right to do so—but they should also worry about China and Iran. Anyone who cheered Twitter’s decision to label fake-news tweets should consider two facts: Such labels can also cause readers to distrust true news and create an “implied truth effect” that leads readers to believe that anything not labeled false is true. For all this, Aral argues that leviathans like Facebook don’t need to be broken up but could be reined in by laws that, for example, would increase data portability and allow people to take data shared online to other networks just as they can take their phone numbers to new carriers. Ardent trust-busters may disagree, but Aral’s arguments are clear and stimulating, and as the presidential election nears, the book could hardly be timelier.

A useful, data-rich analysis of how we use social media—and how it uses us.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-57451-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Currency

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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