(These links give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)
This show’s going to be a little bit different
Welcome to 3 Things You Can Use, where Maddi and I decode self-improvement and entrepreneurship through books, three things at a time. This week’s book is Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday.
“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.”
So, what are three things we can use from this book?
3 Things You Can Use
1. The Pageview Economy
No one is looking at your articles…
You are putting lots of thought into them. You’re talking about important topics and you’re laying it all out in a reasonable way…
but no one is visiting your page!
In fact, everyone you know seems to be reading articles by your competitor: Angry News.
You wonder how they are getting so much traffic while you are working so hard and getting nowhere. So you do some reconnaissance and click over to their website.
The top article is: “President wants to make cat tasering a part of inauguration ceremony.”
“Wow, that’s astounding!” you think to yourself and you click over to the article. This article has gotten over 100k shares! Think of all the pageviews! For every page view, this website gets paid by advertisers. Think of how much money your competitor has made just off of this one article.
But you read through it and find all sort of disclaimer language like, might have said or possible meaning or may be interpreted as, and then you get to a clip and see the president say, “It would be like tasering cats at an inauguration ceremony!” Not something a president should say maybe.
But ok. This is clearly taken out of context and has been shaped and confabulated. But it’s gotten so many views and shares… how?
2. High Valence
The rule of high valence.
If you want an article to spread, it has to either make people really happy, really scared… or really angry. Best results if really angry.
In the pageview economy, the economy blogs and news sites use to make money from showing advertisements, views and shares are value.
If you want people to view and share your stuff, you must get a reaction from them. (Bonus points if the headline does all of the work for you.)
But to get reactions, you can’t just talk about everyday stuff, and there’s not always a crisis or an event that will get people to react. You need to spin things, speculate on things, or even make things up.
It’s a daily struggle for news companies and current event blogs to keep putting out articles that are relevant, interesting and high valence. And the winners in this pageview economy are the ones that can do this.
You can only turn normal events into multiple articles that fit the profile by spinning things, speculating and making things up.
“But that can’t be happening. News sources need to be reputable. They need values to survive? They wouldn’t get away with this.” You might say.
A few methods of getting away with this are:
- Iterative journalism
- Link Sourcing
- Making an accusation a story
Iterative journalism is writing an article without all of the information, with the intent to change it as more information comes along. This gives news outlets and current event blogs the opportunity to speculate on rumors, writing up juicy headlines like: “Does this famous family eat weasels” — without actually having substantial evidence to back it up. They may write with disclaimer language to protect themselves, not being definite about their claims, but they’ve still changed the perception of this family, and gotten pageviews and ad revenue in the process. If the family does reach out to them to dispute, all they have to do is put at the bottom of the article in small font, the family disputes this claim.
Link sourcing is using those little blue underlined links throughout your article to give the impression that you have used verified sources. When in reality those links that they’ve built their case on can lead to other speculative articles that haven’t done their research either. Or they might not even lead to a source at all but just a dictionary.com page defining the linked up word.
Making an accusation a story. Usually, only little blogs and news outlets can get away with blasting out random rumors for page views. The only way a bigger, more “reputable” company will double-dutch with them is if they can get the accusee to deny the accusations. They can reach out to the family who allegedly eats weasels and say, “So do you eat weasels?” If the family responds, then the bigger news company has a story. “Family denies eating weasels despite the fact that sources everywhere are saying they do.”
3. Changing Perceptions
But there’s more to fear about this system of high valence and shareable news than just constant stress, fear and anger responses brought on by scrolling through your Facebook.
Perceptual change is a huge side-effect of this broken craft.
From individual perception changes that affect the public’s perception of a person or group, like the recent Pewdiepie ordeal where the Wall Street Journal made Pewdiepie out to be a Nazi:
Introducing its readers to a series of out-of-context clips from Pewdiepie’s videos with an underlying speculation that Pewdiepie is a nazi, riling up readers that were not introduced to any of the context. These readers could only come away with a confabulated and incendiary perception of a youtube comedian who was just making jokes.
Things like this can potentially result in the defamation and ruination of individuals or groups because of the resulting perception built only because the company needs high valence content.
But also, large scale changes in perception as a society, like the idea that you can’t let your kids go out to play because of how many criminally insane people are walking around out there.
If the only stories that make it to you are high valence, despite the fact that your neighborhood is probably a safe place, your neighbors are people just like you and the overall crime rate has been dropping every year, you are going to have the perception that there is crime all around you and if you let your kids go play outside you might as well kidnap them yourself.
If the only news that gets to you is what is sharable, and the only news that’s shareable is news that gets you angry or scared, then giving the news too much attention will shape your perceptions of humanity as a whole and your perceptions of individuals in ridiculous and irate hyperbole.
If you want to play the game, you’ve got to get pageviews.
If you want to get pageviews, you’ve got to get reactions.
Getting people to react has side-effects that affect people’s perceptions that ruin individual’s public lives and change people’s outlooks as a whole.
Woah. What a book.
The tactics presented in this book, the initial motivation for me reading it, had to do with using the levers of this broken system, taking advantage of link sourcing, high valence topics, iterative journalism, and the page view economy and being crafty to work it all to your will.
But, after reading it, I found that neither he nor any long term thinker would ever advocate using these levers for personal gain. That’s why this one ended up being more of a 3 Things You Can Think About rather than a 3 Things You Can Use.
And as it has to do with the author, this is a different Ryan Holiday than I’m used to. I’m used to the stoic, The Obstacle is the Way and The Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday. This book, his first, written in 2012, shows off his earlier character. In this one he is far less stoic, name dropping journalists with the intent to defame them and writing with an angry undertone. Which, I wouldn’t blame anyone who had been in these situations that he describes, it’s just noticeable because it seems so uncharacteristic to the current, more stoic Ryan.
Overall I think it’s a really insightful and relevant book that really gets your gears going against this return of yellow journalism and fake news. And though throughout he does take shots at people, he also points out that it is really the news system that has naturally developed that is the real problem. Not any particular individuals.
But, I’m hopeful. Ryan was hopeful. There isn’t a clear solution to this problem as of yet, but we gotten out of yellow journalism before, so I’m interested to see how we do it this time.
If you take anything from this review, make sure that you don’t take the news too seriously and don’t let it get you too upset.
That’s all for this one!
Thank you for watching, if you’re not subscribed, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s video, and –
we’ll see you next week!
Want to Read it?
(These links give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)
- Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig
- Reading Photo at end of video by: Marketa