It’s easy to get sucked into the Internet—to spend all of your waking hours on it and then to end the day with a tweet about its pernicious effects on people. In an extraordinary piece about Megan Phelps-Roper, a woman who was brought up in the extremist Westboro Baptist Church, Adrian Chen proposed that maybe our accepted way of looking at the Internet wasn’t for everyone. “On Twitter Phelps-Roper found that it was better to take a gentler tone,” he writes, on his way to describing how she eventually found the courage, through friends she met on the Internet, to break with her church. Chen, who became a staff writer at The New Yorker in 2016, writes often about technology, but his real subject is people. If we think about tech as machines dictating our behavior, we’re missing the real story: the essentially human way in which we live with new technologies, how we adapt and struggle and learn how they relate to what we already know. In one prescient piece, Chen describes how what we’ve come to view as the novel concept of “fake news” has roots in radio, a technology that we now think of as comfortably retrograde.
Many readers first encountered Chen’s work when he published, in the Times, an early look at the work of what came to be known as Russian bots and trolls—in 2015, he travelled to Russia and visited the Internet Research Agency, some of whose employees were indicted by the special counsel Robert Mueller, last month. Recently, Chen returned to the subject. In a piece published a few weeks ago, he described what it felt like to be at the center of a classic Internet storm, playing the role of expert and soothsayer. “If the metrics testified to my enormous influence, why did I feel so powerless? This question illustrates the problem with treating the spread of information as primarily a numbers game.” Technology: it’s people.
—Willing Davidson, senior editor
“It was easy for Megan Phelps-Roper to write things on Twitter that made other people cringe. She had been taught the Westboro Baptist Church’s vision of God’s truth since birth.” Read more.
“The Fake-News Fallacy”
“Stanching the torrent of fake news on the Internet has become a trial by which the digital giants can prove their commitment to democracy. The effort has reignited the debate over the role of mass communication that goes back to the early days of radio.” Read more.
“When a Populist Demagogue Takes Power”
“Rodrigo Duterte does not, as he has put it, ‘give a shit,’ about human rights, which he sees as a Western obsession that keeps the Philippines from taking the action necessary to clean up the country.” Read more.
Using Comedy to Strengthen Nigeria’s Democracy
“One July day, the five writers of ‘The Other News,’ Nigeria’s first prime-time political-satire show, sat in an office in Lagos, trying to figure out how to make fun of a king.” Read more.
“A So-Called Expert’s Uneasy Dive into the Trump-Russia Frenzy”
“I don’t really want to be an expert on the Internet Research Agency and Russian online propaganda. I believe that the whole issue has been blown out of proportion.” Read more.
“The Troll of Internet Art”
“Brad Troemel’s project is simultaneously a jab at the rigid rules of the art world and an experiment in what art might look like if those rules didn’t exist. ‘You can’t make this with a straight face,’ Troemel said. ‘You’d have to be a real lunatic to do that.’ ” Read more.