..with little or nothing in the way of checkingIs it easier to manipulate the media than ever? That is certainly the claim of a new book which has attracted considerable attention on its launch in the US this week.
Ryan Holiday, a part time blogger and writer for publications including Forbes Magazine, is a marketing strategist for the clothing chain American Apparel. His book, ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator’, is apparently chock-full of examples of how gullible bloggers, hungry for ‘eyeballs they can monetize’, have picked up all sorts of too-good-to-be-true insider tips, fake photos and scandal tipoffs that he and others have provided, with little or nothing in the way of checking. In several cases these have been picked up by a credulous mainstream media too. A compelling narrative, with just enough apparent credibility, can simply be too tempting – and if it is positioned as unconfirmed, then who cares?
A recent example is a fake video uploaded by Greenpeace last month, apparently showing a something going wrong at a Shell Oil party to celebrate the launch of a drilling venture in the Arctic. This was widely spread around the internet, picked up by the local newspaper in Seattle and has currently been viewed nearly 800,000 times – despite being a fairly obvious hoax. (There has also been much fake Shell social media activity). On another occasion Jon Stewart’s high-profile The Daily Show was attacked on a well-followed blog with false allegations about its treatment of women on the show. As they say, the rumour was halfway around the world, with half a million views, before the truth had got its boots on. An American site called Help A Reporter Out (HARO) has been a catalyst, enabling almost anyone, claiming to be an expert on anything, to be put in touch with journalists looking for expert quotes. As Mr Holiday discovered, the reporters are often too lazy, or too busy, to check for veracity – ABC News and the New York Times were among his victims.
Could it happen here in the UK? There have always been fakers, and editors who don’t want to pass up a great-sounding story – when I worked for IRN years ago we had a list of people to watch out for. But with more space to fill, fewer resources and bloggers wanting to make a name for themselves, it’s certainly a lot easier now. Watch out for cynical marketers attempting to take advantage. Hacks beware!