Ryan Holiday starts his book off with this story: late one night, he defaced some billboards advertising Tucker Max's movie I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. He then took photos of his act and e-mailed them to several bloggers.
The twist? Holiday was Max's publicist. The whole thing was a trick to generate false controversy surrounding the comedian and the movie. It's cheaper than buying ad time, and a whole lot more effective in its spread.
Holiday also works for American Apparel, and spent some time manufacturing shit-storms for them as well. He made mock-up "ad proofs" that were even more offensive than that company's usual fare and "leaked" them to bloggers he knew would write about it. The scandal was picked up by aggregator sites like Gawker and finally made it to major media outlets like CNN.com.
On the Internet, news often filters upwards: small time bloggers -> Gawker.com and its affiliate sites -> major media affiliates. The source tree, obviously, works in reverse. Cliches are the normal order of business: any publicity is good publicity; being first is more important than being right, etc.
Naturally, when this sort of stupidity worked against him instead of for him, Holiday saw the light and (supposedly) swore off media manipulation and then wrote a tell-all book so we can all be warned.
Two things stood out to me about this: 1) He's a partisan hack (the conservative activist who nailed ACORN is called evil while the author himself was merely savvy) and 2) He places a foolish amount of trust in old school journalism, particularly the New York Times.
Fair warning: I didn't actually finish the book. I tried, oh, I tried. But the sad truth is, the part after explaining how he manipulated the media is boring and repetitive. It's a catalogue of screeds against the way news works on the internet in general and those who wronged him in particular, and I lost interest long before he allegedly got around to laying out a solution. And I'm not certain I'd trust his solution anyway.
Still, I think it's an interesting read, at least Parts I and II, even though the crazy starts showing in the second part. I was reading it at the time the Boston bombing occurred, and the rush to be first and wrong was painfully evident. Reading his explanation of how to create controversies from whole cloth came in handy during the recent brouhaha surrounding the CEO of a company I'll only refer to as Bathercrombie and Titch publicly insulting millions of potential customers.
All in all, it's a handy reminder of the Second Rule of the Internet: Do Not Feed the Trolls*. Handy reading.
(The first rule? It's all about pussy, be it cat pictures or porn.)