Internet Users, You Need to Read This
Online media strategist Ryan Holiday is the master of online manipulation. In 2012 he released a book explaining how he became the go-to-guy for any website wanting to gain exposure. He reveals his dark arts, why some sites succeed, the underhand ways online business is conducted and why celebrity “journalists” just make stuff up. Few books have said more about the way we consume information today and why real journalism and the truth get trampled in the stampede for page views.
From his book, here are 13 handy rules for reading a blog, be it a site of seemingly-credible news or celebrity nonsense.
When you see a blog begin with “According to a tipster…” know that the tipster was someone like me tricking the blogger into writing what I wanted.
When you see “said in a press release” know that it probably wasn’t even actually a release the company paid to officially put out over the wire. They just spammed a bunch of blogs and journalists via e-mail.
When you see “we’re hearing reports” know that this could mean anything from random mentions on Twitter to message board posts, or worse.
When you see “leaked” or “official documents” know that the leak really meant someone just emailed a blogger, and that the documents are almost certainly not official and are usually fake or fabricated for the purpose of making desired information public.
When you see “according to a report by…” know that the writer summarising this report from another outlet has only the basest abilities in reading comprehension, little time to spend doing it, and every incentive to simplify and exaggerate.
When you see “updated” on a story or article know that no one bothered to rework the story in light of the new facts; they just copied and pasted some s*** at the bottom of the article.
When you see “sources tell us . . .” know that these sources are not vetted, they are rarely corroborated, and they are desperate for attention.
When you see a story tagged with “exclusive” know that it means the blog and the source worked out an arrangement that included favourable coverage to a blog. Know that in many cases the source gave this exclusive to multiple sites at the same time. Or that the site is just taking ownership of a story they stole from another site.
When you see “breaking” or “we’ll have more details as the story develops” you should know that what you are reading has simply reached you too soon. There was no wait-and-see, no attempt at getting confirmation and no internal debate over whether the importance of the story necessitated abandoning caution. The protocol here usually states going to press early, publishing before even the basics facts have been confirmed, and not really caring whether all of this causes problems for people.
When you see “we’ve reached out to so-and-so for comment” know that they sent an email two minutes before hitting “publish” at 4am. This would be long after they’d written the story and closed their mind, making absolutely no effort whatsoever to get to the truth of the story before passing it off to you as news.
When you see an attributed quote or a “said so-and-so” know that the blogger didn’t actually talk to that person but probably just stole the quote from somewhere else. As per the rules of the link economy, they can claim it as their own so long as there is a tiny link to the original buried in the post somewhere.
When you see “which means” or “meaning that” or “will result in” or any other kind of interpretation or analysis know that the blogger who did it likely has absolutely zero training or expertise in the field they are opining about. Nor did they have the time or motivation to learn. Nor do they mind being wildly off the mark, because there aren’t any consequences.
When you hear a friend say “I was reading that…” the sad fact is that they probably just glanced at a blog.