How the Author of a Glowing Book on Facebook Became One of Its Harshest Critics

David Kirkpatrick raises the alarm over privacy concerns and disinformation

Facebook has alienated several of its early champions in recent years
Book Catalog/Creative Commons

2010 saw the publication of David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, for which Kirkpatrick had abundant access to said social network. The resulting book was, as Michiko Kakutani’s New York Times review put it, “a mostly sympathetic — at times, gushingly laudatory — account of the company.”

A lot has changed since then — and Kirkpatrick has now emerged as one of the most incisive critics of Facebook. 

In an interview on the podcast Keen on Democracy, Kirkpatrick explained the evolution of his thinking. That he’s experienced such a dramatic shift is important: host Andrew Keen described Kirkpatrick as “probably the world’s leading authority on the history of Facebook.” 

Over the course of the 36-minute interview, Keen raised a host of questions about Facebook’s business practices — including how the desire for a profit created an environment where misinformation was allowed to flourish on the platform, creating an opportunity for authoritarian figures around the world to manipulate things to their own benefit.

Kirkpatrick also argued that the fix for the spread of disinformation on Facebook is a financial one. 

So how to fix Facebook? Just as money is the problem, so it could be the answer too. Facebook is ultimately, Kirkpatrick reminds us, a media company with all the accountability of traditional media companies. It should, therefore, bear moral responsibility for what exists on its platform.

Keen and Kirkpatrick discussed other topics related to Facebook as well, including the launch of Facebook’s planned cryptocurrency. It’s a conversation with numerous implications for politics and technology — as well as a haunting demonstration of one man’s disenchantment with a massive corporation. 

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