Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions Of A Media Manipulator By Ryan Holiday

'Trust Me, I’m Lying' ruined the internet for me, and I couldn’t be happier. For years, we’ve all known something was “off” about the blogs/articles we read, but it hasn’t been as easy to put a finger on exactly what (or at least be able to properly articulate it). It took a while before I finally got to reading this one; not due to what I stated above, but rather the fact that I didn’t really know how to feel about the author, Ryan Holiday. While it’s true that the intent of this book was to put out information on how the media gets the info that we later perceive as news, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Ryan himself previously contributed to this very situation. In the end, I decided that I should give it a shot, based on his current attitude of at least trying to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again. The approach actually reminded me of Kevin Mitnick’s “The Art of Deception,” in which Kevin (known as the “World’s most notorious hacker” at the time) revealed how he performed all of his various acts of hacking in the 80’s. This book goes a bit beyond that type of idea however, as it not only goes into Ryan and his personal experiences with bloggers and media, but into how just about EVERY major news outlet gets its “sources” and “breaking” stories.

Just the fact that I’m even writing up a blog about this might be a little silly to anyone who’s read the book before. That’s because it talks all about the ways bloggers have changed the way we receive news, through posts without (usually) any hint of credibility behind them. Sources are almost a joke of a term under this regard. It’s easy to read a news story and assume the source is accurate (especially if it comes from a fairly large news network that’s been around since before most of us were even born). Here, Ryan talks all about why you should never, EVER assume.

Holiday, of course, is aware that this kind of topic could also cause one to question his words, as well as his motives. He uses many of the book's chapters to go into great detail, with example cases to back the data up. It wasn't uncommon to find a site getting exposed for using a bogus source, and (more frighteningly) still getting away with it most of the time. In fact, many of these sources didn’t even remove their provenly fake stories after the case.

How do big sites and news networks allow stories like this through in the first place? Surely, they have people to stop them and say “No, that’s not a verifiable source; you can’t use that,” right? Not necessarily. At least, not if those people believe it will get their site a lot of page clicks. If I told you that sites focus more on their ability to generate page clicks than accurate news, would you believe me? You don’t have to, as the business model pretty much writes itself. That’s their very lifeblood. The more pages clicked, the more advertisement revenue generated by the ads placed on each page. Some sites try to make you click through a “slideshow” of 10+ pages to get the entire story. Others will force a page to reload after a minute or two, so it can load more ads on the same page you’re already viewing.

It would be one thing if the forcefulness stopped there. On top of all those factors, sites (as you may already realize) post headlines and stories that are designed to evoke an emotion more than they are to simply report the news. This has been going on since far before the age of the internet (as any classic newspaper headline can show you). These sites and articles prey on your anger, fear, and even your hopeful nature, all for the sake of getting more clicks. Have the more shocking headline, get more viewers as a result, profit. Getting people’s attention through hate was proven to be one of the most effective methods. Why? Negative press from everyone who shares it. Ryan himself started a negative campaign for a friend of his when trying to promote a movie. Since he had little resources to promote the movie with, he purposely angered feminist groups in order to make them rally against it. This, in turn, got the attention of a smaller amount of people who actually agreed and went along with the hateful things Ryan was promoting in this form of advertising. The controversy caused it to reach more people, making the project a much bigger success than it ever should have been.

Have a site that you frequent for news? Ryan likely exposed it in this book through some example. The truth is that as noble as some may claim to be in their act of reporting, it won’t bring in enough revenue if they’re not following all the strategies I mentioned above. It’s an awful truth that I admit I still have trouble accepting sometimes. It’s not that I believe ALL news posted is somehow fake, but there is clearly a large spin on more stories than we may realize. Again, this is all to create an emotional response from us, and maybe even get us to share it with others and continue the cycle.

So why even give people this information? The book literally tells you how to manipulate the media for your own personal gain. That much is true, but like the act of hacking, one must learn how said hacking works before they can properly fight against it. This book’s methodology is no different in that regard. And admittedly, our brains have already become so tainted, that even when we see something and know it is not true, we can still have an emotional response or reaction to it. It’s an alarming situation that I never seem to find enough people talking about.

This book has now become a requirement for many classes involving journalism, and it’s not hard to see why. The information contained is invaluable. With that said, I could more than understand someone finding issue with the person who wrote this book, as (once again), he himself contributed to the very mess we now find ourselves in. There are also parts of the book where Ryan can come off a bit condescending, and I admit, I usually avoid reading anything where I get that type of vibe from someone.

The other final complaint I can make here is that some parts of the book felt like a regurgitation of material Ryan already covered in past chapters. It was at the point where I felt the book could have been at least a quarter-length shorter if he had wanted.

With all of that said, in today’s modern age of information, the material covered here is absolutely essential for anyone who looks to the internet for news (as WELL as news networks on television, since their sources typically come from the same questionable places), and any aspiring journalist who wants a clear understanding of what they're currently up against. For its small faults, it’s hard to not recommend this to just about everyone I know, so we can finally paint a clearer picture of not only what’s going on around us, but WHY it’s happening, and what we can finally do to rise above it.

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