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Cover for An Ugly Truth

An Ugly Truth

Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination

Sheera Frenkel, Cecilia Kang


List Price: 29.99*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (7/5/2022)



“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. 

Praise For An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination

“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.” 
— Today

“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

Harper, 9780062960672, 352pp.

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

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.