Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, Google AdSense, and a lack of skepticism, fake news outperformed real news in the final weeks leading up to the 2016 election. Fake news has been a problem for years, and there are individuals who have made good money exaggerating or completely making up stories.
I’ve been in the business of blogging for six years now. During that time, I have had my share of unpleasant interactions with the purveyors of fake or distorted articles disguising themselves as news organizations. This includes being a contributor to a hyper-partisan “progressive” blog named “Forward Progressives” that wasn’t much better than the clickbait sites it pretended to be a counter to, and being cyberstalked by their competition that was secretly in backroom talks with the owners of Forward Progressives.
All of these sites have one thing in common, and that is maximum profit. Sometimes they pretend to be news organizations, and sometimes they pretend to be political causes even though they never contribute a dime to any campaign.
First, there are completely fake news sites that run outrageous headlines like “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Investigated For Child Trafficking.” These websites are often owned by foreign entities seeking to cash in on current political events, and they are not connected to any legitimate party in the United States. Often, these pages will use names similar to reputable news organizations, and use rings of spammers to push their links to the top of your social media news feed.
Then you have hyper-partisan sites and Facebook pages like Bipartisan Report, IfYouOnlyNews, American News X, Liberal America, Occupy Democrats, Raw Story, or Addicting Info which exaggerate or even plagiarise news stories for maximum traffic. They will take a news story like a German citizen petitioning their government to charge George W. Bush and his administration with war crimes, and make it seem as if Bush and Cheney are going to be in handcuffs tomorrow. They also use site names like “New Century Times” or “Groopspeak”, and fake accounts to plaster their fake news links everywhere they can get a couple of clicks.
How do you recognize these fake news sites? Look for headlines with specific words in all caps such as “BREAKING: Top Official Set to Testify Against Hillary Clinton Found DEAD.”
In an interview with the Seattle Times, the operator of Bipartisan Report admitted to being the Fox News of the left, and that it was very profitable.
“We’re a legitimate news-media company,” says Justin Brotman, 34, son of the Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman. “We’re being attacked as ‘fake’ because traditional media is freaked out we can make more money than you, out of our basements.”
Bipartisan Report runs two or three dozen stories a day, most with truth-stretching headlines crafted to feed red meat to a liberal audience. (Source)
Just like the Macedonian spammers, these individuals have no real connection to any political campaign, and use their ad revenue to finance high-rise apartments and fancy meals at expensive restaurants in Chicago, New York, etc.
Finally, there are the reputable news sources like BBC or NPR which are publicly funded and do not rely on clickbait headlines or ad companies to stay afloat. They provide factual, mostly accurate information on current events. These are the organizations we should get our news from, and donate when possible.
If we want to make America smart again and stop the plague of fake news, do not reward the purveyors of clickbait. Support your local NPR station even if you can only give $20 a year, learn to recognize hyperbolic headlines and avoid those sites. That is the only way we can end this dumbing down of our media.