How much money can you bring in by making stuff up and putting it on the Internet? “I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense,” Paul Horner, a prolific, Facebook-focused fake-news writer told the Washington post among a growing group of Macedonian teenagers who see fake-news sites as a way to make easy money from American gullibility, the most successful can make about $5,000 a month, BuzzFeed reported.
In 2016, the churn of fake news was a daily onslaught of fabricated or exceedingly misleading news stories designed to elevate or demonize presidential candidates, mixed into the flow of true or mostly true stories about the election. The stories were designed to be believed and shared. On Facebook, they were seeded into conservative bubbles through hyperpartisan media organizations with enormous numbers of Facebook followers.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber,” Horner told The Washington Post in a wide-ranging interview. “They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected.”
Horner said that Trump fans were especially gullible — “his followers don’t fact-check anything ” — and kept pushing the envelope, seeing how far he could take the joke until someone called him out. That didn’t happen, and Trump fans kept falling for and propagating fake news over and over.
What exactly is fake news
Fake news can refer to deliberately fabricated stories, often with the purpose of making money for the creators. (Think of those Macedonian teenagers looking to strike it rich on the gullibility of American audiences reading about politics.) It can also refer to comedy or satirical news, faked for the purposes of entertainment.
Fake news can now also refer to the phenomenon of a news source publishing something that is inaccurate but is still believed and shared by readers. This includes sites such as Gateway Pundit, which, in the weeks before the election, regularly published outright false stories that became talking points on the conservative Internet. And as the boundaries between “fake” and “unreliable” have become more permeable, conservatives have begun saying that the mainstream outlets they already don’t trust should be called “fake,” too.
Gab, which was founded as a “free speech” social network, is popular with conservatives and white nationalists (who are complete idiots). Pizzagate, the outlandish conspiracy theory about child trafficking in a D.C. pizza restaurant, is a regular trending topic among Gab’s users.
Pizzagate has been the most extreme example (directly related to fake news) so far of what happens when news can mean anything you want it to. A man showed up at a Washington pizza place on Sunday with an assault-style rifle and fired shots. A suspect, 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of North Carolina, was arrested. Police said Welch told them that he went to the Comet Ping Pong restaurant to “self-investigate” the absurd Pizzagate conspiracy that he read about on the Internet. Pizzagaters claim that Comet Ping Pong is the headquarters of a secret pedophilia ring involving Democrats, specifically the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Another example is Dylann Roof — the autistic white nationalist who shoot up a black church. Roof exploded: “Y’all are raping our white women. Y’all are taking over the world.” Then Roof shot them. “I had to do it” because nobody was doing anything about “black-on-white crime” and “it’s not too late to take the country back from blacks.”
Fake news is everywhere
What do the Amish lobby, gay wedding vans, white genocide and the ban of the national anthem have in common? For starters, they’re all make-believe — and invented by the same man.
Paul Horner, 38, who runs a network of viral fake-news sites (he calls them satire), has been making a living off the practice for years. The money comes from ads, provided by the self-service ad technology of companies such as Google and Facebook. It is a business model that has changed little over the years, David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at the New School and an expert in advertising tech, told us. “Anybody can make a site and put ads on it,” he said. “They can easily set up a business, create content, and once it is viral, it drives traffic to their site.”
“Trumps campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.” He explained that he wrote such stories because he wanted to make fun of Trump supporters’ beliefs, and he thought people would fact-check them. But then the stories just took off.
No need to waste money
Although hoax sites vary in sophistication, a quick tour of the usual suspects makes it clear that you don’t really have to put much thought into the design or functionality of the site — in other words, they can be cheaply made. A fake-news site does not need you to stay for long. They just need you to click, and they need a way to spread their work. A fake-news share from within the Trump campaign could earn the lucky hoaxer as much as $10,000 in extra revenue, provided they have taken full advantage of the ad services available to them. That’s a “huge economic incentive to create stories that they want to distribute.”
There are a lot of variables that factor into exactly how much a viral hoax story can make for its creator. But if you take Facebook shares as an indirect indicator of how widely viewed some of these sites might be, you start to understand why, if optimized properly, fake-news sites targeting hyperpartisan audiences can be lucrative.
For certain conservatives, “fake news” now means “liberal bias,” even as the other side uses it to describe an exaggerated or completely untrue statement from the president-elect. So with that bit of information you can set up your network. To get traction, set your marketing campaign demographic to 35 -65 white males conservatives. Geographically, the south is going to have the best bet for white nationalism. Set the income below 40k/year and education level to high school or lower. Utilize audience insights and the reporting tab in Ads Manager to zero in on more autistic and stupid people. The first thing an advertiser should understand about Facebook is its psychology. Since Facebook is essentially an online social platform, you need to create very personal campaigns to penetrate into the mind-set of the people. Engagement is crucial. Get involved in conversations. Talk about a Rape Crisis in Europe, a white friend losing his job to Affirmative Action or how white people are being killed by the truck load in South Africa (remember these people are complete idiots and will never check anything). Of course, sometimes, you may have to cook-up some bogus statistics or link to another bogus article to support your claims but don’t worry, most of your audience is functionally illiterate.
Spread It Like a Virus
Facebook campaigns that motivate users to share content are the most successful because then followers become your brand advocates and people don’t trust anything more than a friend’s opinion. Keep the “virality” factor in mind when creating concepts and ideas for a Facebook marketing campaign.
Bonus Tip: Network
Get your site linked with Stormfront, Returnofkings or other sizable networks of stupid people i.e. the alt-right. Just offer them something like $20/mo or a few beers to link to your website. You want an audience of mostly sad, unemployed morons/racist who will go from one site to another in your network clicking on anything that might make them feel good and reinforce their beliefs. For a site/network owner this is a goldmine. In fact, many white nationalist websites are not even owned by whites!
How long before Google and Facebook crackdown?
So why are Google and Facebook just taking action against this use of their ad services now? Well, for one thing, those companies profit off the viral sites — legitimate or hoax — that use their services, too.
“Google has more of an incentive to make information reliable,” Carroll noted, because Google’s business is based on providing accurate information to people who are looking for it. Facebook, though, “is about attention, not so much intention.” It’s generally good for Facebook’s business when something goes viral on the site, even if it’s not true.
In short, each company could “lose revenue if it shuts down a huge number of fake sites,” he said. The announced crackdown on fake-news sites using the companies’ ad services, at least “show an initial willingness to sacrifice some of their own revenue” to address the growing problem of bad information in their networks.
But Horner has now said that with the rise of Trump, fake news has reached a whole new level. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”