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Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
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“When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question: What do I plan to do with this information?”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. You cannot manipulate the news but not expect it to be manipulated against you. You cannot have your news for free; you can only obscure the costs. If as a culture we can learn this lesson, and if we can learn to love the hard work, we will save ourselves much trouble and collateral damage. We must remember: There is no easy way.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Conning the conmen is one of life’s most satisfying pleasures.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“The work I do is not exactly respectable. But I want to explain how it works without any of the negatives associated with my infamous clients. I’ll show how I manipulated the media for a good cause. A friend of mine recently used some of my advice on trading up the chain for the benefit of the charity he runs. This friend needed to raise money to cover the costs of a community art project, and chose to do it through Kickstarter, the crowdsourced fund-raising platform. With just a few days’ work, he turned an obscure cause into a popular Internet meme and raised nearly ten thousand dollars to expand the charity internationally. Following my instructions, he made a YouTube video for the Kickstarter page showing off his charity’s work. Not a video of the charity’s best work, or even its most important work, but the work that exaggerated certain elements aimed at helping the video spread. (In this case, two or three examples in exotic locations that actually had the least amount of community benefit.) Next, he wrote a short article for a small local blog in Brooklyn and embedded the video. This site was chosen because its stories were often used or picked up by the New York section of the Huffington Post. As expected, the Huffington Post did bite, and ultimately featured the story as local news in both New York City and Los Angeles. Following my advice, he sent an e-mail from a fake address with these links to a reporter at CBS in Los Angeles, who then did a television piece on it—using mostly clips from my friend’s heavily edited video. In anticipation of all of this he’d been active on a channel of the social news site Reddit (where users vote on stories and topics they like) during the weeks leading up to his campaign launch in order to build up some connections on the site. When the CBS News piece came out and the video was up, he was ready to post it all on Reddit. It made the front page almost immediately. This score on Reddit (now bolstered by other press as well) put the story on the radar of what I call the major “cool stuff” blogs—sites like BoingBoing, Laughing Squid, FFFFOUND!, and others—since they get post ideas from Reddit. From this final burst of coverage, money began pouring in, as did volunteers, recognition, and new ideas. With no advertising budget, no publicist, and no experience, his little video did nearly a half million views, and funded his project for the next two years. It went from nothing to something. This may have all been for charity, but it still raises a critical question: What exactly happened? How was it so easy for him to manipulate the media, even for a good cause? He turned one exaggerated amateur video into a news story that was written about independently by dozens of outlets in dozens of markets and did millions of media impressions. It even registered nationally. He had created and then manipulated this attention entirely by himself.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“The reason the knives are so sharp online is because the pie is so small.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Humiliation should not be suppressed. It should be monetized.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“In 1948, long before the louder, faster, and busier world of Twitter and social media, Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton wrote: The interested and informed citizen can congratulate himself on his lofty state of interest and information and neglect to see that he has abstained from decision and action. In short, he takes his secondary contact with the world of political reality, his reading and listening and thinking, as a vicarious performance…. He is concerned. He is informed. And he has all sorts of ideas as to what should be done. But, after he has gotten through his dinner and after he has listened to his favored radio programs and after he has read his second newspaper of the day, it is really time for bed.5 This is the exact reaction that web content is designed to produce. To keep you so caught up and consumed with the bubble that you don’t even realize you’re in one.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Roger Ebert calls snarking “cultural vandalism.” He’s right. Snark makes culture impossible, or rather, it makes the conditions that make culture possible impossible. Earnestness, honesty, vulnerability: These are the targets of snark. “Snark functions as a device to punish human spontaneity, eccentricity, nonconformity, and simple error. Everyone is being snarked into line,” he wrote.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Publicity does not come easily, profits do not come easily, and knowledge does not come easily.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“We’re a country governed by public opinion, and public opinion is largely governed by the press, so isn’t it critical to understand what governs the press?”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“According to the story, “the most powerful predictor of virality is how much anger an article evokes” [emphasis mine]. I will say it again: The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Things must be negative but not too negative. Hopelessness, despair—these drive us to do nothing. Pity, empathy—those drive us to do something, like get up from our computers to act. But anger, fear, excitement, or laughter—these drive us to spread. They drive us to do something that makes us feel as if we are doing something, when in reality we are only contributing to what is probably a superficial and utterly meaningless conversation.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“it turns out that the more unbelievable headlines and articles readers are exposed to, the more it warps their compass—making the real seem fake and the fake seem real. The more extreme a headline, the longer participants spend processing it, and the more likely they are to believe it. The more times an unbelievable claim is seen, the more likely they are to believe it.4”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“So today, as RSS buttons disappear from browsers and blogs, just know that this happened on purpose, so that readers could be deceived more easily.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“No marketer is ever going to push something with the stink of reasonableness, complexity, or mixed emotions.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Media was once about protecting a name; on the web it is about building one.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“What is known can't jerk us around unwittingly. Before anything can be resolved, the implicit must be made into the explicit.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Pageview journalism treats people by what they appear to want—from data that is unrepresentative to say the least—and gives them this and only this until they have forgotten that there could be anything else. It takes the audience at their worst and makes them worse.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“What thrives online is not the writing that reflects anything close to the reality in which you and I live. Nor does it allow for the kind of change that will create the world we wish to live in.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“I was there to deface billboards, specifically billboards I had designed and paid for. Not that I’d expected to do anything like this, but there I was, doing it.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“In under two weeks, and with no budget, thousands of college students protested the movie on their campuses nationwide, angry citizens vandalized our billboards in multiple neighborhoods, FoxNews.com ran a front-page story about the backlash, Page Six of the New York Post made their first of many mentions of Tucker, and the Chicago Transit Authority banned and stripped the movie’s advertisements from their buses. To cap it all off, two different editorials railing against the film ran in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune the week it was released. The outrage about Tucker was great enough that a few years later, it was written into the popular television show Portlandia on IFC. I guess it is safe to admit now that the entire firestorm was, essentially, fake. I designed the advertisements, which I bought and placed around the country, and then promptly called and left anonymous complaints about them (and leaked copies of my complaints to blogs for support). I alerted college LGBT and women’s rights groups to screenings in their area and baited them to protest our offensive movie at the theater, knowing that the nightly news would cover it. I started a boycott group on Facebook. I orchestrated fake tweets and posted fake comments to articles online. I even won a contest for being the first one to send in a picture of a defaced ad in Chicago (thanks for the free T-shirt, Chicago RedEye. Oh, also, that photo was from New York). I manufactured preposterous stories about Tucker’s behavior on and off the movie set and reported them to gossip websites, which gleefully repeated them. I paid for anti-woman ads on feminist websites and anti-religion ads on Christian websites, knowing each would write about it. Sometimes I just Photoshopped ads onto screenshots of websites and got coverage for controversial ads that never actually ran. The loop became final when, for the first time in history, I put out a press release to answer my own manufactured criticism: TUCKER MAX RESPONDS TO CTA DECISION: “BLOW ME,” the headline read.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“The economics of the Internet created a twisted set of incentives that make traffic more important—and more profitable—than the truth.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“In the pay-per-pageview model, every post is a conflict of interest.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“The link economy encourages bloggers to repeat what “other people are saying” and link to it instead of doing their own reporting and standing behind it. This changes the news from what has happened into what someone said the news is.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“The more time kids spend online, studies show, the worse their grades are. According to Nielson, active social networkers are 26 percent more likely to give their opinion on politics and current events off-line, even though they are exactly the people whose opinions should matter the least.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness,” Kierkegaard once said. Now you know why sharing, commenting, clicking, and participating are pushed so strongly by blogs and entertainment sites. They don’t want silence. No wonder blogs auto refresh with new material every thirty seconds. Of course they want to send updates to your mobile phone and include you on e-mail alerts. If the users stops for even a second, they may see what is really going on. And then the business model would fall apart.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“Michael Arrington, the loudmouth founder and former editor in chief of TechCrunch, is famous for investing in the start-ups that his blogs would then cover. Although he no longer runs TechCrunch, he was a partner in two investment funds during his tenure and now manages his own, CrunchFund. In other words, even when he is not a direct investor he has connections or interests in dozens of companies on his beat, and his insider knowledge helps turn profits for the firm.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
“IN THE INTRODUCTION I EXPLAINED A SCAM I CALL “trading up the chain.” It’s a strategy I developed that manipulates the media through recursion. I can turn nothing into something by placing a story with a small blog that has very low standards, which then becomes the source for a story by a larger blog, and that, in turn, for a story by larger media outlets. I create, to use the words of one media scholar, a “self-reinforcing news wave.” People like me do this everyday.”
Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

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