Glenn Reynolds launched Instapundit in August 2001, which laid a key foundation stone down for the publication and dissemination of independent conservative news and opinion over the past 18 years. “Instalanches” have blessed Legal Insurrection with many links.

Over the past 18 years, Reynolds has observed the deterioration of social media and shared his observations and experiences in a new publication: The Social Media Upheaval. I had a chance to read it last week, and I wanted to share my thoughts about his most recent work.

The Social Media Upheaval is not so much a book as an in-depth treatise on the dark side of today’s platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook. This style of presentation allows a more substantive review of Reynolds’ opinion on the current problems with social media (Too Fast, Too Incomplete, Too Emotional, and Too Untrustworthy) and his solutions, but keeps the price-point down and allows the reader to digest a substantial mental meal easily.

As a professional who deals with biosafety issues regularly, perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Reynolds’ analysis was his comparing the spread of bad ideas, fake news, and toxicity on social media to that of early civilizations’ experiences with viruses. Ancient humans had to develop sanitation and medicines to handle physical diseases, which the new living conditions created when they established cities. Likewise, modern peoples must create safeguards against the mental illnesses that may be generated by how electronic media is handled and processed, as well as the outrage mobs that pop-up like plague boils on our society.

Right now, it seems as if the social media world was designed to spread viruses of the mind. And that’s probably because it was. While in the earlier days of the internet ideas spread faster than before, today in the walled gardens of social media outlet like Facebook, Instagram, or especially Twitter, ideas spread much, much faster, and with less time for rumination or consideration, than ever before.

And that’s by design, as social media companies use algorithms that promote posts based on “engagement” — which typically means users’ emotional reactions — and “share” buttons allow each user to pass them onto hundreds or thousands of friends, who can then do the same. This repeated sharing and resharing can produce a chain reaction reminiscent of a nuclear reactor with the control rods removed.

Reynolds also stresses that using antitrust regulations to break-up the power of Big Tech should be part of the solution set in dealing with its unhealthy influence on our politics, culture, and civic environment. The number of acquisitions that Silicon Valley firms have been allowed to make has been astonishing.

…”[T]he tech industry became essentially composed of just a few giant trusts: Google for search and related industries, Facebook for social media, and Amazon for online commerce.”

And these new tech monsters have a one-two punch that Stanard-Oil lacked: Not only do they control immense wealth and important industries, but their fields of operation– which give them enormous control over communications, including communications about politics — also give them a power that exceeds that of previous monopolies.

I give Reynolds’ publication five stars, and strongly recommend it to anyone who spends significant amounts of time on social media platforms. I would also suggest that it would make an excellent gift for graduates, as they have been the most exposed to the viruses of social media…yet may be young enough to recover and create novel ways to adapt.


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