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Publisher's Summary

“The ultimate takedown.” (New York Times Book Review)

Award-winning New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang unveil the tech story of our times in a riveting, behind-the-scenes exposé that offers the definitive account of Facebook’s fall from grace. 

Once one of Silicon Valley’s greatest success stories, Facebook has been under constant fire for the past five years, roiled by controversies and crises. It turns out that while the tech giant was connecting the world, they were also mishandling users’ data, spreading fake news, and amplifying dangerous, polarizing hate speech.

The company, many said, had simply lost its way. But the truth is far more complex. Leadership decisions enabled, and then attempted to deflect attention from, the crises. Time after time, Facebook’s engineers were instructed to create tools that encouraged people to spend as much time on the platform as possible, even as those same tools boosted inflammatory rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and partisan filter bubbles. And while consumers and lawmakers focused their outrage on privacy breaches and misinformation, Facebook solidified its role as the world’s most voracious data-mining machine, posting record profits and shoring up its dominance via aggressive lobbying efforts.

Drawing on their unrivaled sources, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang take listeners inside the complex court politics, alliances, and rivalries within the company to shine a light on the fatal cracks in the architecture of the tech behemoth. Their explosive, exclusive reporting led them to a shocking conclusion: The missteps of the last five years were not an anomaly, but an inevitability - this is how Facebook was built to perform. In a period of great upheaval, growth has remained the one constant under the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. Both have been held up as archetypes of uniquely 21st-century executives - he the tech “boy genius” turned billionaire, she the ultimate woman in business, an inspiration to millions through her books and speeches. But sealed off in tight circles of advisers and hobbled by their own ambition and hubris, each has stood by as their technology is co-opted by hate-mongers, criminals, and corrupt political regimes across the globe, with devastating consequences. In An Ugly Truth, they are at last held accountable. 

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.

©2020 Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Overall
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    5 out of 5 stars

Juicy and well researched

Loved this book. Listening to it felt like I was gossiping with a smart insider. I think we all sense the issues with Facebook and this gave me concrete examples that pushed my initial feelings of distrust towards FB even deeper. This is an important read for all of us.

16 people found this helpful

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Very thorough, a must read

The truth is ugly indeed. The villain is confused, lost, but extremely powerful and wants to keep power at any cost. The cost is people lives, democracies and more. Kudos to the writers on doing an incredible job. Very thorough.

8 people found this helpful

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Pro-censorship disguised as anti-Facebook

If you like propaganda, this book is for you.

The first half does a semi decent job of convincing you what a jerk Zuckerberg is, while subtly claiming that he basically fell into more than he could handle. There is nothing truly damaging said. They just sling a mud around to get you mentally primed. The second half is when the actual campaign begins. The book makes statements like, "The outcry for Zuckerberg to do a better job monitoring and removing misinformation and hate speech was enormous! But Zuckerberg stuck to his guns on free speech." As if we are supposed to believe that Zuckerberg is some kind of freedom fighter for the 1st amendment. Next thing you know the book is full throttle trying to convince you that censorship, (while carefully avoiding the actual word "censorship" unless thing it to Trump), is not only a good thing, but an absolutely necessary thing. Only to conclude that it was the ONLY thing Zuckerberg could do. That poor guy. Every reference to Trump was negative. Every reference to George Soros was positive. Every left wing narrative reenforced. Every right wing narrative misrepresented. This book is nothing but propaganda. They just put Zuckerbergs face on it to convince people that it's going to be anti-facebook.

5 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Just OK

I was really hoping this book would offer insight that the public had no knowledge of. This book presents a great deal of information as fact when it is obvious to be opinion and politically driven. I have no problem with opinion and biased information but believe this insults the lister/ readers intelligence.

5 people found this helpful

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Amazing book from two great authors

Facebook is constantly in the news, and they’ve made the topics of privacy, data, misinformation, and ethics a global conversation. Prior to this book, I hadn’t heard of Sheera Frenkel or Cecilia Kang’s writing, but I’m now officially a fan. They’ve been working on this book for years while also reporting on all of the news surrounding Facebook, and they managed to put together an incredible story while working from opposite sides of the country during the pandemic. I usually find books like these dull to read, but these two are incredible writers, and they were able to hold my attention throughout the book. They discuss the beginnings of Facebook and the origin of Sheryl Sandberg joining the company and dive into all of the major stories since Facebook’s inception.

What separates this book from others on this topic is the insane amount of research these two put into this book. They conducted hundreds of interviews with current and former Facebook employees to paint a comprehensive picture of what was going on behind the scenes and some of the ethical issues Zuckerberg and Sandberg face. While both Kang and Frenkel express their personal opinions on Twitter, they did an excellent job simply presenting the story with this book so you can form your own opinions about Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and the company as a whole. Due to the extensive amount of interviews, you get to hear what many of the employees were thinking, discussing, and debating during each of the stories, and that was probably my favorite aspect of the book. As an optimist, I always believe people join companies and start companies with good intentions, but the nuance of these stories show us how things gradually go sideways.

I don’t have many (if any) criticisms of this book except there wasn’t really anything major that I didn’t know. As someone who has followed each Facebook scandal over the years, I had a decent idea about most of the stories. Before reading the book, I was wondering if they’d be able to tell me anything I didn’t know already. I think where this book shines is within the fact that Frenkel and Kang were able to fill in some details that we often don’t hear about in the mainstream, and they were also able to give voices to those who have been trying to do the right thing from within the company. And if nothing else, this is a great historical documentation of the company, so for anyone who isn’t “in the know” and future generations doing research, this is a perfect book for these readers.

4 people found this helpful

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Thoroughly researched and very engaging

These journalists spent 1000’s of hours researching to get an inside glimpse of Facebooks quest to dominate. The chapters are interesting and shocking at times. The narrator is great. If you’re interested to learn more about the inner workings of a big and dangerous company, I highly recommend listening!

2 people found this helpful

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Nothing New: Corporate Greed Seduces Everyone

Those who are not familiar with the antics of the goofy, naive, idealistic, juvenile Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerburg should reed this book, "An Ugly Truth". This book is a "nothing new" recount of the antics of Zuckerberg and his motley crew of big-ego, materialistic, capitalist Facebook employees who work at Facebook to find any way possible to get you to engage with Facebook longer for one goal; more money for them.

This type of corporate greed is nothing new. The native peoples of early America were victims of indescribable horrors and genocide(s) by greedy humans building railroads, taking their land and searching for gold. The rivers and skies were (and are now) polluted by greedy capitalists building factories and destroying the environment for human material profit. The crimes against humanity by greedy people searching for wealth (fame and other material things that they do not really need to be happy) are long and deep and we all can see the results in our now dystopian world.

Facebook is different from the greedy capitalists of the past only because their business, instead of digging for gold, grabbing native peoples land, and polluting rivers and skies with industrial factories; Facebook mines for information about every Facebook user and they grab and dominate the new frontier of social media and cyberspace by putting corporate profit over the consequences of polluting cyberspace with their platform which amplifies misinformation, hate, greed, ego, identity-ism, and lies (etc etc).

However, the root cause of the huge problem is not simply Facebook, unfortunately. The root cause is us, the people; who demand more and more technology and all the "good things" that tech brings. The same is true for our businesses. We love to drive our cars so we "accept" that we are destroying our planet with carbon emissions. We want more and more land to nation build, so we "quickly accept or forget" that we built this nation on the backs of slaves who were traded like livestock during the early years of our nation.

Facebook, a "leader" in the information revolution, is behaving no different than the past. Polluting cyberspace is just a "now" version of what we humans have done time and time again in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

After committing genocide against the native peoples of America in the name of "discovery" and "manifest destiny", humans just "took what they wanted" during the formation of our great nation. They believed it was "God's Will" that they were destined to sweep across a newly discovered land like a kind of locust and take "whatever they wanted because it had be 'granted' to them". This process has been repeated over-and-over again by humans who wanted "more". Those with superior technology (and weapons, etc) won.

Everyone should see, quite clearly, that the situation with Facebook is no different. Facebook just happens to be the current capitalist and the new wild, wild west is cyberspace and social media. After we completely pollute cyberspace, what's next? Well, we already see it coming in robotics, AI, space exploration and other emerging tech.

"The Ugly Truth" is that Facebook is just one of many commercial enterprises with a "winner take all" attitude who ravage, pollute and destroy our world in the name of "progress" and "connecting us all" and "free speech".

Regarding Mark Zuckerberg; Mark is just a "vehicle" for this kind of evil. If it was not Zuckerberg, it would be someone else. However, in fairness to many of us, there are many of us who would never act and behave as Mark Zuckerberg no different than there are many of us who would never have owned a slave or would pollute the oceans, rivers and skies for profit.

This book was "shallow" and is just a recap of the news we all knew. The real "ugly truth" is that that the problem is "us" and that problem is not going to get any better because of big tech giants like Facebook. Facebook, like most all poorly run social media companies, amplify the worst in human behavior and accelerate us all down this dystopian path we are destined to follow.


2 people found this helpful

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A solid look behind the curtain

Not just another anti Facebook tome. It was a well documented chronology from inception to Jan. 6 surfacing and going deep on the root causes for the organization’s deep distinction.

1 person found this helpful

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Eye-opening

It opens a long over-due conversation. It affects everyone, but nobody really talks about it.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

hearsay

if you enjoy mainstream media, you will enjoy this book. it is definitely an ecochamber.