"Anybody who expected a wonderful happy global community to form on the Internet in which everybody would share cat videos has been gravely disappointed."
"I think the Facebook and Twitter have been configured to incentivize the expression and sharing of extreme opinions. It isn’t just fake news that we have to worry about, but we do have to worry about that, it’s also extreme views. Both are in fact incentivized by the structure of the network platforms as they existed. And I think looking back on 2016 the correct analysis of that election is not that the Russian network interfered and that’s why Trump won, I don’t think the Russian contribution was nearly big enough for that statement to be valid. What is true is that without the existence of Facebook and Twitter it would’ve been very hard for an outlier outside a candidate like Donald Trump to win."
"At times, it seems as if we are condemned to try to understand our own time with conceptual frameworks more than half a century old." Historian Niall Ferguson says it's time for an update.
Countries with top-down power hierarchies get things done quickly—but they just can't last.
If you want to understand what a truly hierarchical political system looks like, just look at Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, says historian Niall Ferguson. Stalin wanted to be all-powerful and omnipresent; he tapped phones, policed relationships and spied on everything—he was totally paranoid, says Ferguson, and for good reason. Social networks are lethal to top-down hierarchies and dictatorships, which is what makes this model of governance so unsustainable. But there is an exception that has stunned observers, Niall Ferguson included: China. Under leader Xi Jinping, China's economy has soared over the last 30 years, but it is now vexed with the largest middle class in history. Can this system endure through the 21st century? That's a huge question for China’s leaders, and for the world. Niall Ferguson is the author of The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.
Niall Ferguson: I’m constantly struck by the levels of historical ignorance that I encounter. In rooms full of very well-paid financial professionals, nobody appears to have read any of the major works of financial history of the last 30 or 40 years.
When we look at how today’s teenagers compare to other countries, for example, by using international standardized tests of literacy and numeracy, here’s the shocking thing. When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development does its standardized assessment of numeracy, or what they call mathematical literacy, they find that the Shanghai Educational District is far ahead of the United States and my country, the United Kingdom.
Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard, where he served for 12 years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. He is also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.
He is the author of 14 books. His first, Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation 1897-1927, was short-listed for the History Today Book of the Year award, while the collection of essays he edited, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, was a UK bestseller. In 1998 he published to international critical acclaim The Pity of War: Explaining World War One and The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. The latter won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award.
His latest book is The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (2017).