Extremely Online: Social Media Novels

We are a couple decades into the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media platforms and, well, it's not so great. The proliferation of misinformation, rise of cyberbullying, compromised privacy and constant distraction are some of the less appealing aspects of being online. So it is no surprise then that some recent fiction centered on social media wades into sharp social criticism and even satire and presents readers with unsettling, nightmarish and often mordant portrayals of life online. You could set that phone down for a bit and pick up one of these books.

French author Delphine de Vigan's Kids Run the Show is a dark fictional take on influencer culture in the form of a crime novel. When 6-year-old 'kidfluencer' Kimmy Diore goes missing during a game of hide-and-seek, it doesn't take long to imagine she could have been abducted by one of her 5 million YouTube followers or possibly a rival influencer. The novel offers the perspectives of two women: Mélanie, Kimmy's mother and a former reality TV contestant with a pathological need for validation; and Clara, the cop scrupulously investigating the disappearance. Kids Run the Show goes in some unexpected directions that elevate it above most whodunits.

Another shrewd exploration of online culture and the damaging effects of social media is Lauren Oyler's Fake Accounts. The novel follows a blogger who finds love abroad in Berlin and subsequently makes a jarring discovery. Her boyfriend has a secret life as a popular online right-wing conspiracy theorist. She resolves to break up with him but, before she does, he dies in a motorcycle accident. Feeling unmoored and conflicted, she quits her job and moves back to Berlin. Readers looking for traditional storytelling should steer clear, but Oyler exceeds at skewering online life and portraying how the Internet has warped our lives and identities in this uncomfortable and darkly funny novel.

Dutch author Bervoets offers a disquieting examination of the life of a content moderator in We Had to Remove This Post. Kayleigh is working at a large social media company, Hexa, spending her days reviewing content that has been flagged for violating the company's terms of service. Not only does Kaleigh have to view disturbing online content all day, but she has to work at an inhumane pace. Despite the grueling work, Kayleigh and her colleagues find camaraderie, and things are OK until they aren't in this provocative story set behind the scenes of social media.

Finally, Patricia Lockwood's No One Is Talking About This features a nameless protagonist known for viral tweets who is launched into stardom with invitations to speak all over the world. The tweet that started it all? "Can dogs be twins?" The "extremely online" protagonist is, indeed, extremely online until the second half of the novel when her mother compels her to return to Ohio because "something has gone wrong," and the screen is replaced with real life. Lockwood, a poet, has penned lyrical novel that is bitingly funny and moving.