Feb 28, 2017

How 'fake news' profits off both sides

A Buzzfeed analysis finds that the same Florida company, American News LLC, owns and operates a set of hyper-partisan news sites, including conservative sites like AmericanNews.com and Conservative101.com, and liberal sites like DemocracyReview.com and LiberalSociety.com. Buzzfeed was able to track the sites' owners through their Google AdSense ID's and domain records.

The sites use stock imagery of writers, and often appear to be copying the work of other hyper-partisan blogs. The sites also operate Facebook pages with huge followings that drive monster engagement metrics. Buzzfeed's study finds that these websites use nearly identical content with opposite ideological spins to lure readers to engage with stories, so they can make money off of the traffic.

Why it matters: The findings, which lead to active advertising accounts, affirm other reports that there is a great financial incentive to generate hyper-partisan and often inaccurate news.

Who's to blame? Google and Facebook both run automated advertising platforms that enable just about any website to monetize its content, given that they earn enough traffic to sell ads against. Publishers are learning that one of the fastest ways to generate traffic is to cater to Facebook's emotionally-driven algorithm and Google's keyword algorithm with outrageous, hyper-partisan content. Both companies (Google, Facebook) have taken steps to curb fake news sites from monetizing off of false and misleading content, but it's hard to regulate at scale without violating free speech laws.

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