Donald Trump will probably never admit that fake news may have helped him win the presidency, but he’s already shown us that he plans to label any criticism in the media as fake news. Or, rather, as FAKE NEWS. Truth be told, there’s no way to measure the impact of false news on the last presidential election. But the phenomenon exists and could sway voters one way or the other depending on how gullible they are. It’s also quite profitable, a new report shows, suggesting that practically anyone can make money off of fake news sites.
It’s widely believed that Russia may have planned various operations to interfere with the presidential election and help Trump win. American intelligence agencies have already proven that Russians hacked the DNC with the purpose of leaking compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Another way to improve Trump’s chances was publishing fake news that went viral online.
However, it’s not just the Russians who may have used these tactics to promote a certain candidate.
It turns out that regular people with minimal knowledge of how the web and social media work were able to create dummy sites that listed repurposed content, including recycled posts from alt-right sites, that went viral on Facebook and social media. The fake news sites got plenty of traffic, and the creators made plenty of cash off of advertising from Google and other companies. At least, until Google turned off ads on sites believed to publish fake news.
Where do these fake news publishers come from? Anywhere, really. An extensive exposé from Wired tells one such story about an 18-year old Macedonian who began posting fake news online for the sole purpose of making money.
Vales is a Macedonian town of 55,000 people, and is also the home of at least 100 pro-Trump websites, “many of them filled with sensationalist, utterly fake news.”
The people behind those sites would not necessarily create the fake news themselves. Instead, they’d pick stories up from other sources, repackage them on WordPress sites, and share them on Facebook where they’d go viral. They would use fake Facebook profiles to spread the news, and fill the pages of their sites with Google ads.
The Vales operation got so big that it got former President Barack Obama’s attention. According to a report in The New Yorker, Obama spent a day in the final week of the campaign talking “almost obsessively” about the “digital gold rush,” in Veles.
“Boris,” the fake news site publisher who agreed to talk to Wired, made some $16,000 between August and November from two pro-Trump sites. He chose Trump because it was a more lucrative proposition, not because he supported the candidate. Moreover, there were more Trump supporters registered in Facebook groups than there were Clinton supporters.
“Bernie Sanders supporters are among the smartest people I’ve seen,” he said. “They don’t believe anything. The post must have proof for them to believe it.”
Like Boris, many others made money by publishing fake news online, at least until Google pulled the plug. One unidentified person was owed more than $60,000 when Google decided to stop advertising on his or her site and withhold the money that was already earned.
The report from Wired is fascinating, and it’s definitely worth a read — check it out at this link.