“Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” by Ryan Holiday

When will I ever be able to believe what I read? Who else knows about these media manipulation tactics? How can I not use these tactics?

I’ve followed Ryan Holiday for a few years online where he writes about philosophy and professional strategy, and this week he released his first book (he’s 25) Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Holiday explains how he plants stories and exploits media sites (such as the Huffington Post, Gawker, Business Insider, TechCrunch, and Mashable) to serve his clients (Tucker Max, Tim Ferriss, American Apparel, Robert Greene, among others). And that you can do it too! The book also serves as Holiday’s confessional for carrying out acts that he feels  guilty about, and mercilessly exposes the puppet masters behind the media, on and offline.

The main takeaway from the book is that the engine behind the media is not “to inform, but to startle.” Bloggers work in what’s referred to as the “digital sweatshop,” paid by how many people see their posts, not how objective or even true their stories are. With a quota around twelve posts a day that depend on attracting clicks, not to serving the public, it’s easy for people like Holiday to feed juicy stories to bloggers who are desperate for good shocking headlines to get free publicity around the internet. Example: Holiday purchased ad space on billboard for Tucker Max’s movie release. He then vandalized the billboard himself, took pictures of aftermath with his phone, and submitted the pictures to various blogs he identified to be anti-Tucker Max. Using a fake email, he pretended to be a Max-hater and voila, the blogs posted the story, other blogs picked up the story, and Holiday gets tens of thousands of dollars worth of publicity for the cost of one billboard and a few emails. There are posts on some of the aforementioned sites that don’t even hide the way they find stories. They encourage readers/sources to craft their own stories and submit them to be published.

Viewing the media through this lens, I finished the book skeptical of any public message. In order to reach any level of being truthfully informed, you need to ask experts yourself or find media sources who work outside of the media machine. Anyone have any suggestions?

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