When news agencies publish news that country X is the first to do this or that, how do we know that the claims made are true?

Do we fact-check that claim?

Ordinarily ordinary people don’t do fact-checks, they take the news as gospel truth.

And this is what Ryan Holiday in this controversial book talks about, how the media manipulates us.

He is talking from a position of confession, because he used to do that, he was a media manipulator.

Holiday blows the lid on a corrupt, page-view-centric media that is destroying lives.

As the director of marketing for American Apparel, and PR agent for New York Times bestsellers, he has got some experience.

The book is split in two:

1. How to do it

2. Why not to do it

The first part, I imagine, is what most people will be most interested in. Holiday uses real examples from his own work and what he has seen others do, to explain how to manipulate the media into reporting whatever you want, boosting profits, creating favourable perceptions for others and also destroying others.

Holiday created fake personas and sent fake scoops to blogs, then wrote fake comments and provided fake traffic time and time again. This resulted in the scoops becoming real, the article being republished across the world, and history changed to the way that suited him and his clients.

A simple example is: you see beautiful pictures of an AirBnB place, you book and pay, you get there, it is not as good as it was depicted on the website.

In South Africa, stories of Bell Pottinger, the Guptas and their PR campaign gone horribly wrong is a classic example of why we should take news, PR campaigns with a pinch of salt.

Think of the war in Iraq and the role some major media campaigns played in supporting the allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. People lost their lives as a result of an illegal in Iraq, and no weapons of mass destruction were found despite independent scientists saying there were no weapons.

Think of the Y2K phenomenon, that IT systems were going to crash by mid-night of 31 December 1999, nothing happened.

The way the media is organised today is bad, he Ryan Holiday, because it no longer cares for quality journalism. Sources are not checked. Facts are dubious guesses at best. Mistakes are never corrected. No, the media cares more for gossip and things that make readers emotionally charged, as that is what makes us share stuff.

It is a very thin line between Public Relations and lies.



This book “ruined” the internet for me.

I can’t read any sort of news online without thinking about how it is either the product of corporate/country spoon-feeding positive news to boost their tourism numbers or a targeted attack to ruin someone or something.

Actually a lot of what is in this book I already knew or suspected, but I did not realise how bad it was or the very serious consequences.

Favourite Quotes

  • “When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question: What do I plan to do with this information?”
  • “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.”
  • “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?”
  • “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.”
  • “Media was once about protecting a name; on the web it is about building one.”
  • “Conning the conmen is one of life’s most satisfying pleasures.”
  • “The reason the knives are so sharp online is because the pie is so small.”
  • “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.”
  • “How can anyone maintain their sanity when everything you read, see, and hear is designed to make you stop whatever you’re doing and consume because the world is supposedly ending?”
  • “It is one of many campaigns I have done in my career, and by no means an unusual one. But it illustrates a part of the media system that is hidden from your view: how the news is created and driven by marketers,”
  • “Twitter isn’t designed to help you get in and get out with the best information as quickly as possible—it’s supposed to suck you into either a contentious world of argument and debate or an echo chamber that reassures you everyone thinks like you do.”


One thought on “Book Review: Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

  1. Great review well after reading it I’m not sure of the book is true now or his just hyping up some conspiracy of the media.

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