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In "Traffic," Ben Smith, the founding editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, takes readers on a riveting journey through the tumultuous landscape of early social media and digital journalism. This candid inside tale delves deep into the lives and rivalries of two online media pioneers: Jonah Peretti of HuffPost and BuzzFeed, and Nick Denton of Gawker Media.

The book opens its curtain on the vibrant streets of Soho in the early 2000s, a time after the dotcom crash but before the digital giants we know today had risen to dominance.

It was a period when New York City seemed poised to become the epicenter of the tech world, and within this small urban space, Denton's audacious team at Gawker and Peretti's optimistic crew at HuffPost and BuzzFeed were busy shaping the foundations of viral internet media.

This was the age of digital innocence, marked by the belief that digital news would be a force for truth and transparency. It was an era where progressive activists harnessed the power of online platforms to help elect Barack Obama.

Smith, who would later become BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief, was an eyewitness to this transformative period, and he paints a vivid picture of the time with remarkable clarity and a touch of dark humor, leaving no one, including himself, unscathed.

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Unintended consequences 

Smith skillfully navigates the nuanced landscape of this era. Denton's radical transparency ideology had its drawbacks, but at least it was driven by a clear vision.

On the other hand, Peretti's relentless pursuit of clicks was content-agnostic, a strategy that ultimately allowed BuzzFeed to outlast Gawker. Yet, as the narrative unfolds, unintended consequences begin to snowball.

"Traffic" explores a striking irony of our time: the internet, originally hailed as a tool for progressive change, has become a driving force behind right-wing populism.

Figures like Steve Bannon, Andrew Breitbart, Gavin McInnes, and Chris Poole (the creator of 4chan) initially seemed like minor players in a story where Nick, Jonah, and their cohorts were the stars. However, by 2020, the roles had reversed. To comprehend this dramatic shift, "Traffic" is not just essential; it's a captivating and indispensable read.

In the age of disinformation, Ben Smith's "Traffic" stands as a definitive account of the Wild West days of early social media—a narrative that sheds light on how the internet evolved into a potent force that reshaped not only journalism but also American society as a whole.

Ahmad Nazir is a UAE based freelance writer