This spring saw the release of Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection by journalist Jacob Silverman. In the book, Silverman details the frightening pervasiveness of social media in our daily lives, and diagnoses its psychic and social consequences. The Washington Post reviewed the book, calling it a “a comprehensive picture of the massive issues facing citizens of the Internet.” Here’s an excerpt from the review by Latoya Peterson (which you can read in it entirety here):
To highlight the costs of the corporatized Web, Silverman follows the money. While many digital innovations are presented as the best thing for consumers, the author contends that we are trading our privacy for ease and our time for another person’s profit. Pointing the finger at technological giants such as Facebook and Twitter, Silverman details the calculated business interest behind the shifts and the creeping changes in our culture, oft lamented in magazine features on selfies. Other companies have adopted Net behavior that has raised concern. General Mills, for example, was the subject of wrath in 2014 for changing its terms-of-service agreement to say that if a person “liked” the company’s page, it meant General Mills had delivered “something of value” to the customer and therefore could not be sued for any other reasons.
In a chapter aptly titled “Pics or It didn’t happen,” Silverman argues that “experiences become not about our own fulfillment, the fulfillment of those we’re with, or even about sharing; rather, they become about ego, demonstrating status, seeming cool or smart or well-informed.” He points out that our digital ego-stroking serves corporations, which glean profitable bits of information about us and our habits with every check-in, tag, photo and “like.”
While social-media notoriety is now a perverse form of social currency, it “often descends upon those least equipped to handle it.” But neither are societies or platforms equipped to manage the repercussions. This particular narrative is most troubling for women who have been harassed online for perceived indiscretions. While the names change — video-game executive Jade Raymond, Web developer Adria Richards, Java developer Kathy Sierra, to name a few — the story remains depressingly the same: A woman rises to prominence, and some people decide she needs to be cut down to size. But unlike with real-world reputation management, there is no new town to move to online, no place safe from a Google search. A friend of mine, the feminist writer Lena Chen, was aggressively targeted for years in a manner that would be deemed stalking in the real world. On the Internet, obsessive attention underscored with threats of sexual or physical violence is just part of the cost of speaking publicly — and women are the prime targets of such abuse.