Manipulating Blogs and the Internet


Are blogs the journalistic scumbags of the internet?

I just finished reading (for the second time) Ryan Holiday’s “Trust Me, I’m Lying—Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” Holiday heaps tons of slime on both blogs and the mainstream media.

The premise of the book is something he refers to as “trading up the chain;” convince blogs on the lower edges to run with a story and work your way up to more popular blogs and on to mainstream media.

While there are assertions in the book that I think are a bit exaggerated, what Holiday does is provide a warning to the rest of us that blogs and mainstream media can be manipulated to the point where false information becomes transmitted to the masses.

I was listening this morning to the popular “This Week in Tech” where host Leo Laporte and guests also expressed grave reservations about accuracy on social media sites and blogs, see http://twit.tv/twit .

All of this has profound implications for my constituency (government, associations, nonprofits) and business.

But we already know this:

Holiday’s assertions are already known by most of us in the public affairs and social media business. What he does, however, is to push these themes hard to the point where the book is compelling. Misinformation may be worse than we realize.

He reminds us that the lack of fact checking among bloggers is a real problem. Once “facts” are printed they are transmitted and reused over and over again until mainstream media takes notice (trading up the chain).

Anyone following the plight of the news media during the last 15 years knows that newsrooms have been dramatically reduced to the point where it’s either easier or possible to get information or context wrong.

So what?

I was posting articles on social media on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/LeonardSipes) and realized that Holiday’s assertions are part of daily life; a Washington Post effort to create a fact checking database; a Gigaom article as to how easy it is to spread a rumor about Apple by posting information on Reddit; how the Progressive insurance company was slammed by a blog post from comedian Matt Fisher entitled “My Sister Paid Progressive insurance to defend her killer in court” to a Marketing Charts article as to how corporations fear the results of social media.

I recently wrote “How to Cause Panic: Television, Social Media and Emergency Management” athttp://leonardsipes.com/how-to-cause-panic-television-social-media-and-emergency-management/ where I assert that it’s easier than ever to create extremely lifelike radio and television broadcasts that can be used to create panic. In an age of both foreign and domestic terrorism, this is possible.

Just imagine YouTube and other video and social media channels filled with uncontrollable information about a dirty bomb in your city and see what happens. It may not be true but it doesn’t have to be to create widespread panic.

Do officials acknowledge the possibilities?

Lots of people from the public relations and emergency management community weighed in on my article with the responses split down the middle with many stating that I was right while others insisted that social media would correct itself.

The self-correction premise is, I believe, wishful thinking. Research indicates that there is considerable misinformation on Twitter and Wikpedia. There are companies that require huge numbers of people just to keep a social eye on its products and reputation, a capacity that most organizations simply do not have. Now we have the purposeful misinformation issue.

Not the last article on Holiday’s book:

This is the first but not the last article on Holiday’s book. Regardless as to what I believe are some over-generalizations, Holiday does us all a favor by dragging us through the ever-changing realities of social and mainstream media and forcing us to confront the vast possibilities for purposeful misinformation. It’s a significant contribution to our understanding the evolving world of social media.

If his book doesn’t convince us to take the misinformation issue seriously and prepare, I don’t know what will.

Best, Len.

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