Danny Fortson

The Sunday Times

The meltdown of cryptocurrencies this past year has generated fascination and endless headlines, but lost in the fallout was a brutal reality: the $2 trillion crash was not just about the destruction of digital money traded amongst speculators. It ruined thousands upon thousands of average people. Retirements were vaporised. Families lost their homes.

This was the side of the story that I wanted to draw out in The Sunday Times Magazine cover story, Crypto Inferno. As west coast correspondent for The Sunday Times, my job is to demystify Silicon Valley, to explain the mind-boggling potential of new inventions, their dangers, and to chronicle what happens when the world-changing aspirations purported to underlie the “next big thing” are transformed by greed, lack of foresight or bad intentions. The article was one of the most read and commented on in the entire publication the weekend it published. Readers expressing dismay at the destruction wrought by the implosion, and how an idea that promised to democratise finance ended up, as one souce put it, turning into a “giant fleecing of ordinary people.” A blizzard of lawsuits and investigations continue amid the fallout of one of biggest financial bubbles in history.

It was in a similar vein that I wrote Does My New Bum Look Big In This?, an investigation into how social media companies, principally Instagram and Tiktok, have fuelled a plastic surgery boom, the consequences of which are, for many, disastrous and life-altering. What I uncovered was an entirely unregulated Wild West, where surgeons lured patients with glossy posts, algorithmically served up to vulnerable users. The results ranged from botched procedures to infections, emergency room visits and even fatalities. Some platforms had signed “creator” deals with surgeons, paying them to post promotional content while at the same time claiming they only allowed “body positive” content on their platforms. In the wake of the Molly Russell inquest, such brazen peddling of ‘perfection’ has been shown to be deeply damaging - and it continues. Is Facebook Over, was on the shocking fall of Facebook. After nearly two decades of dominance of the Internet and society, Mark Zuckerberg’s leviathan has begun to shrink and lose relevance. The day after the story was published, a prominent investor called for Zuckerberg to fire 15,000 people and slash costs. It was a stunning demand for a company that, until recently, has known nothing but meteoric growth. It then announced disappointing financial results leading to a dramatic stock price crash that, in total, has obliterated more than $700 billion of value. The article laid out what is a case study in how quickly fortunes can turn in tech, but it is also a warning. Facebook is shrinking, but still hugely powerful. And Zuckerberg now appears to have little interest in husbanding a forum where elections are fought, conspiracies thrive and extremists find their tribes.

In all of the above pieces, my goal was to lay out the immense power - constructive and destructive - that technology wields.