During my last year at the University of Toronto, I was in a intimate sized media lecture entitled, "Legal and Ethical Issues in Media" where my final paper required to write a critical book review essay (approximately 1500 words long) of Ryan Holiday’s book, Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. With a journalism background, I figured I'd utilize my skills and interview a trusted media resource to help add some juicy information to my paper. And with that being said, I reached out to Marcus Troy, a Montreal based digital branding consultant who specializes in blogging, social media and digital experiences with his own personal platform. Below are portions of my paper and informative quotes from both Ryan Holiday and Marcus Troy that I believe are relevant to those in tuned with the online and social media world.
Want to get into the core of media and successfully make it big? Easy. Just lie, deceive, cheat, bribe and connive. Well, at least that’s what Ryan Holiday, author of Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator reveals in his controversial book that has everyone in the media snarling over.
According to his biography on his site (RyanHoliday.net), he describes himself as a “media strategist for notorious clients like Tucker Max and Dov Charney.” His deceiving media strategies have been used in case studies by various social media outlets such as Google, Twitter and YouTube, and has been mentioned and written about on well- renowned media outlets such as: the New York Times, Gawker, AdAge and Fast Company. Holiday is also internationally known as the Director of Marketing and Advertising at American Apparel, where he constantly looks for angles to provoke the public (go figure).
Nowadays, legal and ethical rules are lax, which makes it easier for information on the web to be distorted, fabricated, and exaggerated. This is where Holiday, the media manipulator comes in. His job is to use and control the media so that the media can lie to the viewers; he gets paid to deceive, abuses his knowledge of the Internet to his advantage, and connives billion-dollar brands. Consider him the king of making people do and think things they otherwise wouldn’t. The manipulative human injunction. Evil genius at its best.
The book is split in two—the first is entitled, “Feeding the Monster: How Blogs Work” and the second is, “The Monster Attacks: What Blogs Mean.” According to Holiday, in the first part he “explains why blogs matter, how they drive the news, and how they can be manipulated,” (pg. 7) in the second part, he “shows what happens when you do this, how it backfires, and the dangerous consequences of our current system.” (pg. 7)
I did an interview with Marcus Troy, a Montreal based digital branding consultant who specializes in blogging, social media and digital experiences. Using Holiday’s manipulative tactics as examples, Troy mentions that although he is against manipulation, websites and blogs can definitely be manipulative through popular demand:
This statement is similar to what Holiday says under the “Traffic is money” section. He states that “Advertisements x Traffic = Revenue” (pg. 32). Troy on the other hand, is still the few believers in quality over quantity when it comes to his website and blog (marcustroy.com).
Holiday failed to explore other legitimate mediums in the blogging world, such as the fashion industry—which focuses on quality brands that live to protect their own name. For example, Troy says he believes in earning the trust from his viewers because he believes in social currency and in protecting his own brand:
“What I’m able to do through my site is take out that bias approach because now blogs can become extremely bias because we get bribes of products, clothing, and money and that changes the game up as a whole. So integrity is being lost in the blog world because a lot of people take money for posts, which does dilute the true essence of what a blog used to be…I’m very cautious of what I say. What I try to say is always very calculated, I also try to give my honest opinion on things if it’s positive. If it’s not positive then I just won’t write about it. I don’t come across any ethical issues with what I do per se. But if a brand comes to me and says a product is made out of real fur, I won’t post about it unless I have an intimate relationship with it. I don’t post about anything I don’t have any sort of relationship with. Everything is firsthand. I don’t fool anyone. For me, I’m really big on being a participant so anything I’ve talked about I’ve seen it, I’ve touched it, I’ve experienced it, I know about it, I’m familiar with it, those are the kinds of ethical things that come to play for me. I’m never going to cosign a brand that I’ve never seen, touched, or known.”
Another reason why the majority of the public’s interest is geared towards Holiday’s first book is because it’s a lot more relatable, especially in today’s day and age where blogs drive the news. For instance, he mentions that we live in “a world of many hustlers” (pg. 7) and we are the mark because “the con is to build a brand off the backs of others.” (pg. 7) Many of us are guilty of owning our own blogs, contributing to other blogs, or reading blogs on a regular basis.
According to Holiday, “There are thousands of bloggers scouring the web looking for things to write about. They must write several times each day. They search Twitter, Facebook, comments sections, press releases, rival blogs, and other sources to develop their material.” (pg. 20)
I was given the opportunities to cover big entertainment headline stories such as: the 54th Grammy Awards, the 84th Academy (Oscar) Awards, the 2012 Toronto World MasterCard Fashion Week, and was even a guest on The Morning Show for a fashion segment. With the opportunities given, my articles were aggregated in Google News because the entire Shaw Media outlets shared my articles with their independent sites. For instance, my fashion and entertainment articles on Global News Toronto got pushed to Global TV News Calgary, Global TV News Edmonton and Global TV News BC, which then got published on to its sister stations like ET Canada and Slice TV.
The more my articles got published, the more I wanted it to spread. I used social media to my advantage and marketed myself like there was no tomorrow. According to Holiday’s third tactic entitled, Give them what spreads, not what’s good, he says:
“Every blog, publisher, and ovesharer in your Facebook feed is constantly looking to post things that will take on a life of their own and get attention, links, and new readers with the least work possible. Whether that content is accurate, important, or helpful doesn’t even register on their list of priorities.” (Holiday, pg. 60)
In the second part of Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, Holiday turns his focus towards a philosophical outlook of the media. After showing us how the media works and how great it can be, he now explains “online journalism’s bogus philosophy” (pg. 165) on why media manipulation is wrong and how it can backfire and cause dangerous consequences.
He argues that today’s media organization is corrupt because it no longer caters to good quality journalism. For instance, with the convenience of social media, there are no longer editors or fact checkers. Jon Orlin of Techcrunch says, “When you tweet or retweet, you are not checking the facts or even so much concerned if you are spreading a lie… But this is how process journalism now works. It’s journalism beta.” (pg. 165).
Holiday inevitably admits that although many of us will use his book as an instruction manual and have fun with it, his true motivations was to not only “render the tricks useless by exposing how they work, but wanted to opt out of doing them myself. I want to force everyone else to opt out as well. Hopefully clearing this ominous pile of debris will make it easier to start fresh.” (pg. 236)
The conclusion to avoiding media manipulation is to simply put the public’s best interests first. As professionals in the media industry, it’s our ethical responsibilities to always consider the consequences of our actions— not so much for moral and ethical reasoning, but more for the effectiveness of our actions. It’s also ethically correct to protect the public, private, and social sector’s interest from the undermining things we see everyday and value them as legitimate. According to Marcus Troy, his pointers on avoiding media manipulation is to ignore blogs to the best of our ability because many of them are opinion based:
“If you really want to get that integrity people are looking for, you have to be reliable sources. It’s about the people who do it for real and those who don’t care what others think… It’s just hard to separate the good from the bad but I think to be true is to create your own media, create your own space where you can talk about the things you like, the things you’re into, the things you truly believe in. Build your own audience. I think that’s the only way you can’t be manipulated.”