“Terrorists Have Infiltrated the US Government!” “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President …” “Hillary Sold Passport Printing Machines to ISIS…” Fake news stories like these were shared millions of times on Facebook during the 2016 US election.
Paris Wade and Ben Goldman are fake news writers, and they make no bones about it. They freely say that their stories are fictional and lucrative.
Here’s how it works. Every day they open their laptops in their California apartment and write as many stories as they can. These are stories based on rumor and their imagination. The more fear, paranoia, and anger they can tap into, the better. These stories quickly go viral on Facebook, which regularly sends lots of people to their fake news website libertywritersnews.com. Some of these visitors will click on ads on their website, and for each click, Goldman and Wade get paid. They are making a killing. Just six months ago, they were poor, unemployed restaurant workers in their 20s. Now, they claim they were making between $10,000 and $40,000 a month. And that was before their business really took off in September right before the November election.
Wade and Goldman’s website is just one of many fake news websites, and they aren’t all homegrown. The small town of Veles in Macedonia (FYROM) has just 45,000 people, but has started more than 100 fake news websites earning advertising money off of gullible Trump supporters. One 17-year-old university student who also owns a fake US news website is upfront about his business. “In Macedonia the economy is very weak and teenagers are not allowed to work, so we need to find creative ways to make some money.”
It’s hard to say whether people like Wade and Goldman really helped Trump become president. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it’s crazy to think fake news affected the election. But not everyone at Facebook agrees. One anonymous employee said, “It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform…”
Facebook and Google are trying to do something about the problem. Facebook is looking for ways to fact check stories, and Google is trying to stop fake news sites from making money with their online advertising system. Now that the conservatives are in power, Goldman is thinking about how he can make money off the other side. He says, “It would be a perfect time to open up a small liberal newspaper right now.”