The Business of Fake News

by Carlo Alcos Nov 26, 2016

Post-election we’ve all heard a lot about fake news, as if it’s a new trend. It’s not. It’s been around for a while now, but it was definitely exacerbated leading up to the 2016 presidential vote. It’s arguably one of the main reasons that Donald Trump won, and is now a focus for companies like Google and Facebook to try to curtail the spreading of false information.

Many of us think we know the motivation behind fake news sites, but it could be different than what you expect. The above audio is from NPR’s All Things Considered podcast. In it they track down the person behind one of the most viral fake news stories during the lead-up to the election: FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide. Not surprisingly, the story is completely made up, but it wasn’t made up to try to convince people that Hillary is evil. The creator of the fake news site The Denver Guardian, Jestin Coler, started writing fake news apparently as some kind of social experiment, as a way to prove how insidious it is. Coler said, “The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction.” He was surprised at how fast the fake news gets eaten up, especially by the right (he says his writers have tried writing fake news for liberals but they never take the bait).

Behind it all, though, is the fact that he and others make pretty serious cash off creating fake news, upwards of $30,000 per month according to the podcast. He maintains that fake news isn’t why Trump won, that there are other serious factors that contributed to the outcome. I think the lesson is clear, though: Analyze everything you read and don’t be so quick to share.

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