Sue Halpern is a regular contributor to The New York Review and a Scholar-in-Residence at Middlebury. Her latest book is a novel, ­Summer Hours at the Robbers Library. (April 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

In Praise of Public Libraries

Bates Hall, the reading room at the Boston Public Library, 2017

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

by Eric Klinenberg

The Library Book

by Susan Orlean
A public library is predicated on an ethos of sharing and egalitarianism. It is nonjudgmental. It stands in stark opposition to the materialism and individualism that otherwise define our culture. It is defiantly, proudly, communal. The sociologist Eric Klinenberg reminds us that libraries were once called palaces for the people. Klinenberg is interested in the ways that common spaces can repair our fractious and polarized civic life. And though he argues in his new book that playgrounds, sporting clubs, diners, parks, farmer’s markets, and churches—anything, really, that puts people in close contact with one another—have the capacity to strengthen what Tocqueville called the cross-cutting ties that bind us to those who in many ways are different from us, he suggests that libraries may be the most effective.

Apologize Later

Mark Zuckerberg testifying at a Senate hearing about Facebook’s use of user data, Washington, D.C., April 2018

The Cleaners

a PBS Independent Lens documentary film directed by Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block

The Facebook Dilemma

a PBS Frontline documentary television series directed by James Jacoby
Fifteen minutes into The Cleaners, the unsettling documentary about the thousands of anonymous “content moderators” working behind the scenes in third-world countries for Facebook, Instagram, and other social media companies, the filmmakers provide a perfect—if obvious—visual metaphor: they show a young Filipino woman walking through a garbage-strewn Manila slum as …

How Republicans Became Anti-Choice

Abortion rights demonstrators, New York City, 1968

Reversing Roe

a documentary film directed and produced by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
It is impossible to understand American politics of the past half-century without taking abortion into account. The Brett Kavanaugh charade most recently, the machinations of the Republican Party more generally, and the infectious fundamentalism creeping into everyday life: all begin with abortion. Other issues may have been as divisive—civil rights comes to mind—but none has been as definitional. These days, the litmus test for Republicans running for political office or nominated to the judiciary is opposition to abortion. On the Democratic side, it is almost equally crucial to be pro-choice. Yet as the Netflix documentary Reversing Roe ably shows, this was not always the case.

The Known Known

An unmarked camera drone above Toronto, Canada, May 2018

The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

by Sarah E. Igo

Habeas Data: Privacy vs. the Rise of Surveillance Tech

by Cyrus Farivar
In 1999, when Scott McNealy, the founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems, declared, “You have zero privacy…get over it,” most of us, still new to the World Wide Web, had no idea what he meant. Eleven years later, when Mark Zuckerberg said that “the social norms” of privacy had “evolved” because “people [had] really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” his words expressed what was becoming a common Silicon Valley trope: privacy was obsolete.

NYR DAILY

Lost in Robo-Translation

A translation machine exhibited at a Japan electronics and information technology convention, Osaka, Japan, October 3, 2017

My device had run out of power, so I spoke into his. Words came out in Japanese, but either they were too faint to be heard above the din or they made no sense, and he shrugged. “How do you like this translation machine?” I tried. Nothing. “Does this thing work pretty well?” I asked. He finally seemed to understand what I was getting at, and spoke quickly into the device. “I have no information about that,” he said.

Facebook’s Fake News Fix

A Facebook

There is no way to know, yet, if outsourcing discernment—if that’s what polling a random collection of two billion people is—will cut down on the amount of propaganda, lying, and deception on Facebook, or if such a survey will simply replicate existing ideological divisions. But it is also unclear where the more than 50 percent of Facebook users who get their news from the site will get it now, if anywhere, since there will be so much less of it. And maybe that is the point. This diminution of news might be a way for Facebook to walk away from the public sphere—or, at least, appear to walk away—at a time when it has been taken to task for its overweening influence there.

Our Hackable Democracy

The Voting Machine Hacking Village at the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 29, 2017

The recent news that voting machines had been hacked for sport at the Def Con hackers’ conference, should not have been news at all. Since computerized voting was introduced more than two decades ago, it has been shown again and again to have significant vulnerabilities that put a central tenet of American democracy—free and fair elections—at risk.

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.