Trust Me, I'm Lying
Confessions of a Media Manipulator
The cult classic that predicted the rise of fake news—revised and updated for the post-Trump, post-Gawker age.
Hailed as "astonishing and disturbing" by the Financial Times and "essential reading" by TechCrunch at its original publication, former American Apparel marketing director Ryan Holiday’s first book sounded a prescient alarm about the dangers of fake news. It's all the more relevant today.
Trust Me, I’m Lying was the first book to blow the lid off the speed and force at which rumors travel online—and get "traded up" the media ecosystem until they become real headlines and generate real responses in the real world. The culprit? Marketers and professional media manipulators, encouraged by the toxic economics of the news business.
Whenever you see a malicious online rumor costs a company millions, politically motivated fake news driving elections, a product or celebrity zooming from total obscurity to viral sensation, or anonymously sourced articles becoming national conversation, someone is behind it. Often someone like Ryan Holiday.
As he explains, “I wrote this book to explain how media manipulators work, how to spot their fingerprints, how to fight them, and how (if you must) to emulate their tactics. Why am I giving away these secrets? Because I’m tired of a world where trolls hijack debates, marketers help write the news, opinion masquerades as fact, algorithms drive everything to extremes, and no one is accountable for any of it. I’m pulling back the curtain because it’s time the public understands how things really work. What you choose to do with this information is up to you.”
In this revealing volume, Holiday describes the marketing strategies he's learned, developed, and put into practice through his work with such infamous entities as American Apparel (under whose auspices he serves as director of marketing) and the notoriously irreverent Internet-to-print phenom Tucker Max. A self-described "media manipulator," Holiday candidly states that his "job is to lie to the media so they can lie to you." According to him, it's all part of the game. Though he admits to being "no media scholar," Holiday effectively maps the new media landscape, from "small blogs and hyperlocal websites," to "a mix of online and offline sources" and the national press. But his main market is blogs, and given the increasingly interconnected nature of the Digital Age and the rise of blogs as veritable news outlets, his focus is prescient and his schemes compelling. From fabricating stories and marketing them "until the unreal becomes real," to defacing his own billboards to build street-level buzz, Holiday's tactics may not represent the apogee of ethical marketing, but they work folks love to hate American Apparel's lewd ads, and the vitriolic concoction that Holiday brewed around Tucker Max took his book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Media students and bloggers would do well to heed Holiday's informative, timely, and provocative advice.
An very important book. Don't get distracted by whether it is a lie.
It's impossible to not ask whether the author is pulling your leg the same way he describes doing to everybody else. I don't think so, but it wouldn't matter. Spend a few weeks looking at social media through this lens and you'll see the social disease that it has become. And you need to know.
The Con is On
Okay, he does what he says; explaining the cons, naming names because in his heart he is repentant. Got it.
The book gets bogged down in repentance here and there, but can be a juicy read when he outlines the dirty tricks campaigns he's waged to put products and people on the map. I picked this up, figuring there would be the "media backlash" and so far only a couple of people have taken the bait, mostly the creator of a website that admittedly lazy or stressed journalists use to be able to claim "unnamed sources" on their articles, columns et al.
WHY TO READ THIS
It will help you suss out the fake news stories if you haven't done so already. If you are seeking publicity, it does give you kind of a roadmap whereby you can draw your own moralistic line in the sand. Also you can enjoy the media's penchant for making more copy out of a somewhat non-issue. This will play into his hand, as he points out.
WHY TO SKIP IT OR NOT TAKE IT TO HEART
The repentant Mr. Holiday goes a little too far as con artists often do, and it sounds as hollow as a child's piano. The writing at times rambles, and whoever his editor was, was either asleep at the wheel reigning him in, or was instructed not to go there. You also may come away realizing that you have been expertly duped to buy this exposé thereby adding to what he craves: more hits, more pickups in news, blogs and magazines. This, he says is his intent.
Interesting, odd, but hardly the "blowing the lid off" expose the writer and his publisher imagine.