An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination (Hardcover)
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER // WINNER OF THE SABEW BEST IN BUSINESS AWARD
A Book of the Year: Fortune, Foreign Affairs, The Times (London), Cosmopolitan, TechCrunch, WIRED
“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 readers 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 coopted by hate-mongers, criminals and corrupt political regimes across the globe, with devastating consequences. In An Ugly Truth, they are at last held accountable.
About the Author
Sheera Frenkel covers cybersecurity from San Francisco for the New York Times. Previously, she spent over a decade in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent, reporting for BuzzFeed, NPR, the Times of London and McClatchy Newspapers.
Based in Washington, DC, Cecilia Kang covers technology and regulatory policy for the New York Times. Before joining the paper in 2015, she reported on technology and business for the Washington Post for ten years.
Frenkel and Kang were part of the team of investigative journalists recognized as 2019 Finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. The team also won the George Polk Award for National Reporting and the Gerald Loeb Award for Investigative Reporting.
“Frenkel and Kang faced the challenge of unearthing new and interesting material about one of the most heavily debated communication tools of our modern age. More than 400 interviews later, they’ve produced the ultimate takedown via careful, comprehensive interrogation of every major Facebook scandal. An Ugly Truth provides the kind of satisfaction you might get if you hired a private investigator to track a cheating spouse: It confirms your worst suspicions and then gives you all the dates and details you need to cut through the company’s spin. . . . By weaving all those threads together, and adding new reporting from high-level meetings in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., the authors manage to effectively examine the shortcomings in the company’s leadership, structure and accountability. The book connects the internal drama and decision-making at Facebook with what we have all experienced on the outside.”
— New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating…. Adds a trove of rich detail that will be important in the ongoing assessment of social media’s impact on society and democracy.”
— Washington Post
“There’s so much new reporting in this book, a story we thought we understood fully. It turns out there is much more to it.”
— Morning Joe
"A great book. Everybody should read it.”
— Kara Swisher
“A valuable record of what went wrong, when, where, why, specifically in the last five years.”
“Explosive.... Makes powerful claims about the company’s vast influence and repeated mistakes.”
“Stunning revelations. . . . Damning new details. . . . Fantastic.”
— Jake Tapper
“An Ugly Truth build[s] a compelling case that Facebook has grown far past its origins … into a delivery system perfectly suited for the propagation of extremist views and outright untruths…. Frenkel and Kang offer a compelling argument that in the interest of preserving democracy, we must take steps to purge Facebook of outright falsehoods, hate and disinformation now.”
— Associated Press
“Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang detail the company’s dawning awareness of the foreign adversaries in their midst. By the time it’s all over, Donald Trump will be president, and Facebook’s halting response triggers an international reckoning over the size and power of technology platforms….The broad outlines of this story are well known…. The value in An Ugly Truth comes from the detail it brings to the Russia investigation as it was experienced by some of its participants at the time…. The book is worth reading for everyone interested in social networks, trust and safety, and cybersecurity. (And, of course, for anyone else like me who is fascinated by Facebook history.)”
— Casey Newton, The Verge
"New York Times reporters Frenkel and Kang debut with a paragon of investigative journalism in this insiders’ account of the scandals and toxic culture at social media giant Facebook....A work of impeccable research and relentless reporting."
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A damning, often shocking portrait of finger-pointing and PR turmoil. . . . This sharp study serves as a convincing, effectively researched and sourced report of how Zuckerberg and Sandberg erected their social media empire with controversial tactics and questionable management styles, all while avoiding a minefield of incriminating investigations and lawsuits. . . . Thorough, high-caliber investigative reporting every social media user should read.”
— Kirkus, starred review
“A detailed dismantling of what happened at the highest levels of the company as it pursued a policy of deny, deflect and obfuscate.”
— New Statesman
“Takes readers behind the scenes.”
— Business Insider, Recommended Read
“In Kang and Frenkel’s lucid account we get to hear the step-by-step details of the energy and incompetence of the world’s biggest influencer and the American government’s utter inability to regulate its grotesque excesses…. [A] meticulous history of Facebook — exactly what you would expect from New York Times reporters with a track record of insight and care.”
— The Forward
“Russian hacking, smear campaigns and livestreamed massacres are the price of Mark Zuckerberg’s quest for connectivity, grippingly probed by two New York Times journalists. . . . Better sourced than all of its predecessors in the genre. . . . Splendid.”
— The Guardian
“Facebook, eternally mired in controversy, is going through another bad PR cycle due to the release of Sheera Frenkel’s and Cecilia Kang’s book, An Ugly Truth, which documents the company’s long history of allowing disasters like its role in the genocide in Myanmar or its infestation of far-right clickbait to fester in the name of profit.”
“A hard look at the inner workings of Facebook.”
— The Six Fifty
“With Frenkel’s expertise in cybersecurity, Kang’s expertise in technology and regulatory policy, and their deep well of sources, the duo provide a compelling account of Facebook’s years spanning the 2016 and 2020 elections…. The book is as much a feat of storytelling as it is reporting….The detailed anecdotes take readers behind the scenes into Zuckerberg’s conference room known as “Aquarium,” where key decisions shaped the course of the company. The pacing of each chapter guarantees fresh revelations with every turn of the page.”
— MIT Technology Review