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Book Review of “Trust me, I’m Lying” by Ryan Holiday

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Lately I've been reviewing books that would make you feel optimistic and happy about the world so I figured a review one that will make you really think that it's all FUBAR (great acronym "fucked up beyond any recognition").

The book shows how journalism has died in the digital age because of how the economics of the Internet reward the worst behavior from journalists and news websites 

Videoblog of this book review

The subtitle of the book is Confessions of a Media Manipulator, the author is a PR consultant who would cleverly orchestrate the media to do his bidding and draw millions of eyeballs. He says

Conning the conmen is one of life’s most satisfying pleasures. (p. 39)

In the first chapter of the book he describes dressing all in black in the dead of night to go vandalize his own billboards, just to create a click bait worthy scandal. Which just sounds fun to me!

In the book he describes the trading up 'media hack',

I’d start with using HARO to get quoted on a blog that didn’t care much about credentials, then use that piece as a marker of authority to justify inclusion in a more reputable publication. (p. 56)

How to go viral

“the most powerful predictor of virality is how much anger an article evokes” (p. 63)

I made it my strategy to manufacture chatter by exploiting emotions of high valence: arousal and indignation. (p. 66)

On Fact Checking

The link economy encourages blogs to point their readers to other bloggers who are saying crazy things, to borrow from each other without verification, and to take more or less completed stories from other sites, add a layer of commentary, and turn it into something they call their own. (p. 150)

On trust

He talks about how for some reason we assume that since something is written down it must be more legitimate than just something somebody says...

Studies have shown that the brain experiences reading and listening in profoundly different ways; they activate different hemispheres for the exact same content. We place an inordinate amount of trust in things that have been written down. (p. 185)

On snarkiness

To be called a douche is to be branded with all the characteristics of what society deigns to hate but can’t define. It’s a way to dismiss someone entirely without doing any of the work or providing any of the reasons. (p. 204)

On fake news

The process is simple: Create a pseudo-event, trade it up the chain, elicit real responses and action, and you have altered reality itself. (p. 220)

From here we get the defining feature of our world today: a blurred line between what is real and what is fake; what actually happens and what is staged; (p. 220)

For example

2002, Vice President Dick Cheney leaked bogus information to an attention-hungry reporter for the New York Times, and then mentioned his own leak on Meet the Press to help convince us to invade Iraq. (p. 221)

Probably like yourself, I almost never watch the mainstream media; Fox, CBS, CNN, NBC, BBC but there's a couple of what they call alternative media channels and personalities I do follow and have some degree of trust in because they are more antiestablishmentarian. Their news programs are not interrupted every 10 minutes with an advertisement from Pfizer or Ford. Unfortunately, after reading this book, I have even less trust in the alternative media sources I follow because I see that they are also subject to the unfortunate economics of the Internet that reward quantity over quality and scandal over veracity.

How to combat fake news...

  1. This books confirms what I recommend in the High Leverage Information Diet which is to spend more time reading more books and less time reading articles. Book's are just so much more likely to contain truthful information because anyone writing a book has to spend at least $900 to have that book edited; they are going to take their fact checking a whole lot more seriously than that journalist or blogger who must bang out 3 articles a day. Anyone writing a book knows that their reputation and public persona is going to be permanently tied back to whatever they say in that book. Whereas a blogger or a "online journalist" has so much less moral responsibility for what they write.

  2. I'll encourage you to not read the news and if you do read the news because there's a story that you just have to inform yourself about read the stories and analysis that come out a couple of days or (ideally) weeks or months after the fact. These are so much more likely to present an accurate and holistic picture than the breaking news is.Thanks to the current US elections we are perhaps living in era where more eyeballs than ever before are transfixed by the breaking news. We have this epic showdown between this iconic egotistical billionaire and this Machiavellian, double faced super politician. I bet you that in a few years books will be written about this election that reveal things that are completely contrary to what the news is telling us right now.

  3. Get your information from online sources that are not economically compromised. The more ads you see surrounding the news you are reading the higher the likelihood that the veracity of news has been compromised by factors described in this book. This is a big part of the reason why I've never had ads on my website or Youtube channel that paid me per view. I've always made my money as a blogger or Youtuber via affiliate commissions. So my economic incentive is to make the most trustworthy recommendations of the very best products to my audience, so that they will keep buying them. I've always known that as soon as I installed ads on my site I would become a slave to the page view.

Now a days we see some alternative media sources that serve the news and they make money by selling supplements, asking for donations or selling books. These seem like an imperfect but definitely more honest economic models of journalism than being paid tiny fractions of a cent per pageview. Some examples of this would be Infowars.com, Free Domain Radio or Mike Cernovich of Danger & Play.

I'll add a silver lining to the pessimistic conclusions presented here; now a days whenever any type of news worthy event happens what do you almost always see around the periphery of the event?

Everybody holding their smart phones out recording the event. It looks pretty funny actually, as opposed to enjoying the event or making an effort to keep their whits about them to stay safe, everybody is just transfixed on documenting it with their little rectangular devices.

While it's a weirdly narcissistic behavior, it's great for the overall veracity of news and online discourse. There's been all sorts of instances where a scandalous news story broke and the public shaming and hysteria began but then a grainy video of what actually happened surfaced and everyone learned the truth.

Eventually when we live in a world where almost everything that happens is recorded will "fake news" still be so prevalent? Maybe not...


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