You can’t just fake this stuff up… Or can you?
Many have read and likely enjoyed, like me, the satirical talents of the writers at The Onion, a mock news website that comments on everyday happenings. But this year a number of mock journalists generating content for fake news websites are capturing attention now because of their alleged influence on voting in the U.S. presidential election held earlier this month.
An admitted fake news writer, who identifies himself as Paul Horner, says he might just be responsible for helping elect Donald Trump as president. He says throughout the U.S. presidential election season he has written and seen disseminated his fabricated news articles. For one, Donald Trump’s son, Eric, and a Trump campaign official tweeted a link to his fake news article that claimed opposition protestors were paid $3,500 to appear at Trump rallies. Horner says that he has operated several faux-news sites for years and makes a living through ad placements on this fake websites.
Another pseudo-journalist, Paris Wade, residing in Long Beach, California says he receives $13 to $14 per 1,000 views on his Facebook mock news site because of ads. He noted, however, that Facebook has sometimes flagged his articles as spam and can subsequently block them.
This is where Facebook and Google take center stage in the controversy.
Two days after election day, Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg promptly addressed but initially dismissed concerns about the influence of “fake news” on presidential balloting as a “pretty crazy idea”. Two day later, Zuckerberg claimed that 99% of news content on Facebook is “authentic”. Yet, less than a week later, Zuckerberg has announced plans to fight the dissemination of fake news on Facebook, noting that the company takes the matter seriously and is considering seven ways for addressing the issue, including warning labels, easier to use reporting tools, and implementation of a third-party verification process. Facebook also modified its Facebook Audience Network policies in terms of ad placements on Facebook pages in response to critics.
Google, which was also cited for failing to control fake news websites announced, on November 14, that it would not allow Google ads (i.e. via its AdSense service) to be placed on pages that “misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about you, your content or the primary purpose of your web property.” Yet Google managed to avoid much of the negative attention Facebook received when the controversy first broke because it quickly acknowledged there was a problem. Google also promised to fund fact-checking projects dedicating to fixing the problem of fake news online.
Did fake news influence voters in the 2016 presidential election? That determination is yet to be made but one can see how fake news sites can attract the unsuspecting public.
A list of 133 “fake, false, or regularly misleading websites” has been published by Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Among the intentionally misleading website names are those that seem to mirror ABC News (#10), and NBC News (#77). You might see others that seemingly parrot news organizations you recognize. (Note: A disclaimer that accompanies the list includes a ranking of deceptiveness in parenthesis for many of the websites, and states that not every website can be termed deceptive all of the time.)
Care to try your hand at spotting a fake U.S. presidential election news headline?
Cast your vote for “True” or “False” in this short, 10-question quiz.