The Lucrative Art of Fake-News

I admit that I have been duped by fake news.  During the election, my friends shared a meme on Facebook that quoted Donald Trump in People magazine stating that if he were to run for president he would run as a republican because they are the dumbest group of voters in the country.  Since I saw that the quote was taken from Peopledownload magazine, I assumed that is was true.  Later in conversation, I would find out that it was fake.  This made me feel embarrassed and angry.   Ultimately, I wanted to know why someone would create this.  I assumed it was because they wanted to garner support for their own beliefs or to decrease support for Trump.  I found out that I was somewhat correct, but the main purpose for the creation of this meme was something else.

Fake news has been around a very long time.  You can find stories dating back to 15th century Italy where preachers gave sermons about how the Jewish community murdered and drank the blood of children on Passover.  In response, authorities arrested, tortured, and killed fifteen Jewish locals.  This story spread across surrounding communities where similar actions were taken.  In the past, fake news was used as propaganda to manipulate and control the beliefs and feelings of a community.  More recently, we have seen fake news hi-jack social media focusing on the polarizing landscape of politics throughout the world.  With the accessibility and far reach of social media, fake news authors have been able to share their false stories with countless amount of people.  However, the main purpose for creating fake news has changed.  It is no longer created to manipulate and control, but to make money, and a lot of it.

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So, how much money can a fake news author make?  Experienced authors can make between $10,000-$30,000 a month!  That’s a lot of dough!  NPR was able to interview a prominent fake news author in California, Jestin Coler.  In the interview, the Coler spoke proudly of his work. He is a self-proclaimed democrat who wrote fake-news stories targeting conservative groups.  His story on how people were buying marijuana with food stamps in Colorado was shared and popularized so much that it was run on Fox news.  More recently, he published a story titled Person Who Leaked Hillary Clinton’s Medical Records Found Dead.  He shared this story amongst Trump supporters and Facebook groups.  The story spread like wildfire.  Coler’s story was debunked, but that did not stop people from continuingly to share the story on social media platforms.  Coler admits that he got into the fake-news business because he thought it would be fun to prank conservatives.  What started as a little fun for him has turned into his primary source of money.

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Let’s take a look at another story.  Let me ask you a question.  Where in there world do you think there has been a massive increase in the creation of fake-news? If you answered Macedonia then I am guessing you know this story.  Teenagers in Macedonia have been profiting off the creation of political websites.  In the small town of Veles, over a one hundred political websites have been created for the purpose of spreading fake-news.  The website domain names are politically focused and are usually conservative such as TrumpVision365.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com.  The domain makes it seem like the news stories are written from a reputable source.  sub-buzz-1935-1478117364-5There have been Facebook pages created based on the Macedonian websites that have gained hundreds of thousands of followers.  The teen-age authors profit off the clicks that they receive on their stories.  Each click brings in a fraction of a penny which when shared thousands of times can be very lucrative for a teenager in Macedonia.
The average annual wage in Macedonia is $4,800.  One teenage author named Dmitri stated that he has made $60,000 over the past 6 months.  When asked why they do this, the authors claim that they have no interest in US politics, and that their interest is purely financial.   You may be asking yourself if creating pro-left fake-news is equally as lucrative.  One website tested creating pro-Bernie content.  However, the results were far worse in compared to pro-right and pro-Trump content.

It is hard to say if fake-news affected the results of recent election or not.  The articles that were shared and became popularized were within groups of people that had mostly likely already decided which way they would vote.  The real question is did fake-news sway the votes of those who were on the fence.  I would argue yes.   Social media has the ability to reach millions of people and the power to make individuals conform to the beliefs of the larger or louder group.  Facebook and Google have since taken steps to fight the prevalence of fake-news on their platforms.  I believe that this will be hard to do.  The people who have profited off of fake-news will find another way or medium to spread their stories.  Additionally, there are many alternative advertisement placement services other than Google Adsense.  We can claim that this was the first social media election, but I claim that this was the first fake-news election.  Mark my words, four years from now it will be the true first fake-news election.

8 comments

  1. Nice post. I, too, am a bit stunned by the amount of money fake news providers can make. It actually makes me think less that the fake news is politically motivated, but more about who is susceptible for fake news. I think the bigger problem is actually biased news, which definitely has the goal of forwarding a certain ideological agenda (on both sides).

  2. I wish there was a service/website that could objectively fact-check news postings and determine whether or not they are legitimate. Specifically, I would like this service to have two distinct features; One that would label asserted facts as true or false, and the other that would identify opinions as such and label them as being biased either conservative or liberal if necessary… I know that this is inherently subjective, and the bigger issue will be convincing the public to trust such a service, but I figured I’d share this idea because your post made me think of it. Thanks!

  3. benrmcarthur · ·

    I really like how you brought in an example of fake news in the past. John Oliver did a great comedic journalism piece on the rotation of fake news as it filters to Trump and from Trump. While I would try to explain it, I think the video does much more justice to deliver the points. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xecEV4dSAXE

  4. terencenixdorf · ·

    I, too, got originally duped by that fake Trump quote the first few times I saw it until I decided to fact check it myself and see what else he said in the interview. Like many others I always assumed that these Fake News articles were meant to trick people into beliefs on behalf of political motivation. The amount of money that these people make by writing these fabricated stories astounds me so thanks for sharing that. I really do hope that social media platforms do figure out a way to filter out clearly fake news but I’m not entirely sure how possible that would be.

  5. talkingtroy · ·

    Part of the problem is it is so easy to click share on something that immediately resonates with you before you’ve even had time to think about it. I think part of the solution will be in the digital world, but the rest needs to be in the physical world. We need to teach with a greater focus on critical thinking skills rather than regurgitation of facts. We live in a society in which we are supposed to just trust authority and more and more we are finding out authority figures are not always honest. There is a difference between fake news and biased news and people need to learn how to challenge their own arguments to see if they stand the test (does that really make sense? It sounds ridiculous – maybe it is). The digital world can help by tagging posts with a note (this author/publisher tends to have a slight liberal bias) and allowing users to flag content for review/fact-checking). Without these or similar steps I fear people will continue blindly believing wild claims (like pizza-gate). Great post!

  6. zfarkas17 · ·

    great post, I really liked the research you did to show just how profitable fake news can be. I think it’s interesting how quickly fake news spreads, and I would have to believe that it is because most of our friends on social media share similar beliefs as us, and so we are willing to accept a questionable article as real because they shared it.

  7. Ciaran_Cleary · ·

    The fake news problem is a serious issue, and it has become such a gray area topic that even the POTUS is quick to point out reliable news sources as Fake News. It is without a doubt my least favorite part about social media, and I hope that at some point there is a way to eliminate this type of business. As Prof Kane mentioned, it makes it much more complicated that its more of a business than a political side trying to gain traction. How does one censor out the BS?

  8. lesleyzhou · ·

    Wow, that is absolutely crazy that people actually get paid for creating fake news! I was astonished at your Jestin Coler example and his published “Person Who Leaked Hillary Clinton’s Medical Records Found Dead” that is still circulating around the Internet. I’ll admit I’m definitely guilty of skimming news articles on Facebook, shared by my friends, and automatically believing what I read. I think it’s our human instinct to want to read/believe “dramatic” or polarizing news, especially during times of political tensions where people are labeled to be on the “right” or “wrong” team. Perhaps the only way to combat this is to read several articles to confirm a news report, but in our day and age, we really don’t have the time to do that…

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