Sue Halpern is a regular contributor to The New York Review and a Scholar-in-Residence at Middlebury. Her latest book is A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home. (July 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

The Nihilism of Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Laura Poitras’s documentary film Risk

Risk

a documentary film directed by Laura Poitras
About forty minutes into Risk, Laura Poitras’s messy documentary portrait of Julian Assange, the filmmaker addresses the viewer from off-camera. “This is not the film I thought I was making,” she says. “I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They are becoming the story.” By the time she makes this confession, Poitras has been filming Assange, on and off, for six years. He has gone from a bit player on the international stage to one of its dramatic leads.

How He Used Facebook to Win

Prototype Politics: Technology-Intensive Campaigning and the Data of Democracy

by Daniel Kreiss

Hacking the Electorate: How Campaigns Perceive Voters

by Eitan D. Hersh
That the Republicans didn’t lose can be attributed in large measure to their expert manipulation of social media: Donald Trump is our first Facebook president. His team figured out how to use all the marketing tools of Facebook, as well as Google, the two biggest advertising platforms in the world, to successfully sell a candidate that the majority of Americans did not want. They understood that some numbers matter more than others—in this case the number of angry, largely rural, disenfranchised potential Trump voters—and that Facebook, especially, offered effective methods for pursuing and capturing them.

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.

They Have, Right Now, Another You

Peter Thiel speaking at the Republican National Convention, Cleveland, July 2016. Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook and a cofounder of PayPal, is a founder of Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm funded by the CIA, whose algorithms allow for rapid analysis of voluminous data that it makes available to intelligence agencies and numerous police forces as well as to corporations and financial institutions.

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

by Cathy O’Neil

Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy

by Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice E. Stucke
It would be naive to think that there is a firewall between commercial surveillance and government surveillance. There is not. Many of us have been concerned about digital overreach by our governments, especially after the Snowden revelations. But the consumerist impulse that feeds the promiscuous divulgence of personal information similarly threatens our rights as individuals and our collective welfare.

NYR DAILY

Hacking the Vote: Who Helped Whom?

CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit, New York City, September 19, 2016

In the waning days of the 2016 campaign Trump’s data team knew exactly which voters in which states they needed to persuade on Facebook and Twitter and precisely what messages to use. The question is: How did the Russians know this, too? Largely ignored in this discussion is one possibility: that the Russians themselves, through their hacking of Democratic Party records, had better information than Trump.

The Assange Distraction

A mobile phone shows the Ecuadorian Embassy where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living since June 2012, London, England, August 20, 2012

Given what the files in the recent WikiLeaks release contain, and given that they’ve landed in the hands of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s press release might be read more as a threat than an invitation. Julian Assange has not destroyed the source codes that came to him with Vault 7, the algorithms that run these programs, and he has not ruled out releasing them into the wild, where they would be available to any cyber-criminal, state actor, or random hacker. This means that Assange is not just a fugitive as he often calls himself, he is a fugitive who is armed and dangerous.

The Americans We Need

Over the last few years, we’ve spent considerable time in refugee enclaves across the nation. They are among the most admirable—and the most American—communities we’ve ever visited. Which is to say, President Trump’s ban on refugees is clearly racist and probably unconstitutional but it’s also just plain stupid, at least if the goal is to build a strong, safe, working nation.