On the podcast: What if social media are a problem?
My interview with the author of a powerful new book
Greetings from Winnipeg, where I’m interviewing the city’s mayor-elect Scott Gillingham for next week’s Paul Wells Show podcast. Meanwhile you’ve got this week’s episode to keep you company. And when I get home, I’ll catch up on a busy week at the convoy commission.
As for this week’s episode: I was skeptical when I started reading Max Fisher’s book The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Brains and Our World. In this day and age, do we really need a book to tell us social media can be problematic?
But Fisher really delivers on the subtitle’s premise. He’s a New York Times reporter on the international beat, and he co-writes the Times’s Interpreter column, which analyzes big international stories. Increasingly in recent years, he’s found a social-media angle — in Brexit, in QAnon, in anti-immigrant backlashes in Germany — and most menacingly in Myanmar. Where Facebook use grew 80-fold within five years. Just before a genocide began.
In our talk, Fisher discusses how the basic goal of all the big social-media platforms — “engagement,” or time spent online — has led the platforms to find techniques to keep us coming back for more. Techniques that also exploit a human weakness for tribalism, strong emotion, polarized debate, and revenge. Fisher’s reporting on these issues for the Times made him a finalist for a 2019 Pulitzer prize. The Chaos Machine is one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in a while. Fisher and I had a fascinating conversation.
Here’s the episode on Apple Podcasts.
And here’s where I tell you about everyone who helps me get The Paul Wells Show out to where you can hear it.
We’ve been getting fantastic support from our Founding Sponsor, Telus, and our mighty local Title Sponsor, Compass Rose. The institutional basis for this work is my post as the inaugural Journalist Fellow-in-Residence at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Our Ottawa partner is the National Arts Centre. Antica Productions wrangles guests, records audio, helps me stay organized, and does all the other work of turning this into a podcast.. The Toronto Star and iPolitics distribute and promote The Paul Wells Show. Kevin Breit recorded and performed the music.
Thanks to them all. If you like what you hear there or read here, please tell a friend.