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Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday (2012)
Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator (2012)
by Ryan Holiday
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: July 19th 2012
Publisher: Portfolio (Penguin USA Imprint)
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

You’ve seen it all before. A malicious online rumor costs a company millions. A political sideshow derails the national news cycle and destroys a candidate. Some product or celebrity zooms from total obscurity to viral sensation. What you don’t know is that someone is responsible for all this. Usually, someone like me.

I’m a media manipulator. In a world where blogs control and distort the news, my job is to control blogs–as much as any one person can. Why am I giving away these secrets? Because I’m tired of a world where blogs take indirect bribes, marketers help write the news, reckless journalists spread lies, and no one is accountable for any of it. I’m pulling back the curtain because I don’t want anyone else to get blindsided.I’m going to explain exactly how the media “really” works. What you choose to do with this information is up to you.

My Thoughts:
I was drawn to this book because of its cover (I’m a sucker for illustrative covers) which stood out amongst the host of non-fiction with covers that look like Daniel Pink or Malcolm Gladwell rip-offs. Usually, my non-fiction book picks revolve around social phenomena or psychology (which explains my affinity for Malcolm Gladwell and David Eagleman)–Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying is no different. Holiday exposes how social media has devalued truth and how viral content it ruins innocent people in the most sinister ways. In this two-part book, Holiday teaches you how to exploit the media for your own gain, and why you should think twice before you do so.

Read this book before you click another slideshow or an enticing headline with a question mark at the end.
This book has made me consider my Internet browsing habits, and who is profiting because of it. With every click, someone is profiting off ad revenue. I will never see a slideshow the same way again. Or misleading headlines. Just yesterday, I clicked on a link that proclaimed a seven-year girl saved her mom by slapping her with pizza (I found it amusing that the book used the same event in one of its examples.) Turns out pizza isn’t as life-saving as I thought, and the mom was probably saved by emergency personnel instead of tomato sauce.

Lying is Great for Publicity…but you still probably shouldn’t do it, because you just might ruin someone’s life
So maybe page-clicks aren’t such a big deal. It’s not like they are taking MY money. But more importantly, the book explains how easy it is to manipulate media, especially social media with little to no publishing integrity and ravenous bloggers hopping to gain as many page-views as possible. It is easy to “bribe” bloggers to write whatever you want (even if completely false.) And if you do it enough, you might find your false story turn “true.” But Holiday gives us the other side of the coin. If it is that simple to spread lies, then we can also ruin people’s lives. Everybody loves to read about juicy scandal, but nobody cares to read about people living normal lives.

Despite enjoying the book, I also had a few gripes:

ARGH! This book is so repetitive!
Throughout the last hundred pages, it felt like everything I was reading was already said at least a dozen times before: blogs are greedy for page clicks, blogs only want to be the first one to leak shocking news (regardless if it’s true or not,) everyone is making stuff up, etc. If I was Holiday, I would probably never have trouble meeting word counts for college. His points were already well-established in the first part, which made much of the second part read like incessant rambling.

Questionable Parts:
There are generalized points I don’t agree with and parts I thought could have been elaborated upon.
I don’t agree that the reader views links as a sign of a more trustworthy article. A more distracting article maybe.
I also don’t see snark as inherently evil, though I agree that Holiday’s examples are ones that flaunt bad taste. Humor is entertainment, and doesn’t have to come with an hidden agenda. I feel snark can have wit. I also wanted Holiday to elaborate on that study about corrections having the opposite effect as intend: instead of refuting the (false) original article, corrections strengthen them. In one chapter about “using technology against itself,” Holiday laments having to “spoon-feed readers and bloggers like babies” by breaking down a compelling chapter of a book into eight pieces to fit the demands of the web. If it was really THAT great of a chapter, then why would length be an issue? (Never mind, that I would never read a random chapter of a book that I was planning to read anyway. Why would I want to spoil the book like that?)

Not only was Trust Me, I’m Lying an enjoyable read, but it also made me think about my Internet surfing habits (who is profiting from my page clicks, and how DARE they!) and my own book blog. Of course, I don’t care for monetizing my blog, nor do I run a highly-trafficked news blog dedicated to getting the first scoop about anything scandalous, so I would like to think of myself immune to many of Holiday’s criticisms. But I wonder if there a cost to my honesty after all. And what about all the blogs I thought I could trust? TRUST NO ONE!

On the other hand, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to bloggers. Or any devious people hoping to spread false rumors about their mortal enemies. You will have a new perspective of your role on the Internet.

Rating: B