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The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing Up for 2020 (cnn.com) 225

CNN has a story on Veles, riverside town in Macedonia, which back in the day was known to make porcelain for the whole of Yugoslavia. But now, as an investigation by the news outlet has found, it makes fake news. Veles has become home to dozens of website operators who churn out bogus stories designed to attract the attention of Americans. Each click adds cash to their bank accounts. From the report: The scale is industrial: Over 100 websites were tracked here during the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, producing fake news that mostly favored Republican candidate for President Donald Trump. One of the shadowy industry's pioneers is a soft-spoken law school dropout. Worried that his online accounts could be shut down, the 24-year-old asked to be known only as Mikhail. He takes on a different persona at night, prowling the internet as "Jesica," an American who frequently posts pro-Trump memes on Facebook. The website and Facebook page that "Jesica" runs caters to conservative readers in the U.S. The stories are political -- and often wrong on the facts. But that doesn't concern Mikhail. "I don't care, because the people are reading," he said. "At 22, I was earning more than someone [in Macedonia] will ever learn in his entire life." He claims to have earned up to $2,500 a day from advertising on his website, while the average monthly income in Macedonia is just $426. The profits come primarily from ad services such as Google's AdSense, which place targeted advertisements around the web. Each click sends a little bit of cash back to the content creator. Mikhail says he has used his profits to buy a house and put his younger sister through school. [...] That site was blocked a few months ago after Facebook and Google started cracking down on fake news sites. Mikhail is now retooling his operation, with his sights set firmly on the 2020 presidential election.
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The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing Up for 2020

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  • The election was rigged.
    • Re:Trump was right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ayano ( 4882157 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @12:07PM (#55188915)
      Not rigged, influenced. Mostly it's just a reflection of Americans seeking validating stories to share with others gullible enough to be influenced.
      • Not rigged, influenced. Mostly it's just a reflection of Americans seeking validating stories to share with others gullible enough to be influenced.

        That's pretty much it. I have a few friends who were Trump supporters, posting a lot of fake news articles every day. The articles were obviously fake: "Hillary indictment this week!", "Hillary dropping out of race!", etc. It is hard for me to imagine them posting those articles had any influence over anyone to change their vote, and these people wouldn't have voted for Hillary under any set of circumstances.

        • Re:Trump was right (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @01:05PM (#55189483)

          "False equivalence", was the secondary theme of the entire election, right after post-truth Trumpian lies.

          Plenty of people who don't pay enough attention saw the garbled mess, along with the very valid, but exaggerated criticisms of Clinton (shouldn't have had her own email server), and concluded that all sides were equally bad.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            concluded that all sides were equally bad.

            Well, they certainly aren't equally good

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by danbert8 ( 1024253 )

            They were equally bad, but they were both still bad. I voted for the lesser of evils, Gary Johnson.

            • I feel like instant runoff, range voting, or approval voting would have had a strong chance of electing Johnson. I don't think that Trump's most ardent supporter could claim that he would win under approval voting, and Hillary was nearly as disliked. The country seemed like it was poised to take a more conservative turn, or perhaps I should say some conservative backlash, but Johnson might have won broad approval as everybody's second choice.

              I disagree totally with libertarian principles, but I think that i

              • by clodney ( 778910 )

                I disagree totally with libertarian principles, but I think that it's pretty clear to everyone that they are a large segment of American politics and that our political parties don't necessarily reflect the broad divisions in our society very well. I would like to institute a voting system which would more accurately reflect the support there is for your party. I think it would be better for the nation for us to have more choices at the polls, and more meaningful ones

                I often wonder if we would have better outcomes with a parliamentary systems, with a mixture of regional representation and at-large candidates. Having lots of parties would mean that people would find parties that match their ideals, and parties getting some seats gives them some influence. And having more at large candidates reduces the winner-take-all aspect of state by state campaigning, without going all the way to a nationwide popular vote.

                It seems that the two party system leaves lots of people fee

                • I'd prefer proportional representation to be a component of the vision of a US constitutional parliamentary system. Much more responsive to the people's true views.
              • I feel like instant runoff, range voting, or approval voting would have had a strong chance of electing Johnson.

                I'd imagine that with any of those options, you'd find political parties and their nominations were pretty different. I'd imagine that either Clinton, Cruz or Kasich would win. I'd imagine that all three, plus Trump and Bernie would be on the ticket, as the parties moved towards nominating a slate. And then the never-Trumpers and never-Bernie-ers would vote for the rest of the field. Okay, Cr

            • Johnson gave stoners a bad name. It's not the weed, he's just an idiot.

              • I don't think he's an idiot, just goofy and awkward on TV. Bill Weld was the more polished guy that should have been the top of the ticket.

          • And then decided not to vote for either Hillary or Donald, and instead voted 3rd party. I can't see anything bad about that reaction, as the major parties were both posting fake news.

        • It is hard for me to imagine them posting those articles had any influence over anyone to change their vote, and these people wouldn't have voted for Hillary under any set of circumstances.

          Well, it's not just a matter of convincing people who to vote for, but just as much in getting them motivated enough to go out and actually vote (or making them decide it's just not work it so they don't). Make people a little more angry and that could influence the final number of voters, not matter if the cause was real or not.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ctilsie242 ( 4841247 )

        There are many parties influencing the election. What is the difference between anonymous donations that are protected as free speech (under the Citizens United verdict) hiring shills versus a sovereign nation doing the same thing. Ideally, elections should be closer to Canada, where there is no advertising permitted so candidates have to stand on their own merits.

        Or just dispense with the pretexts, and just auction the seats off to the highest bidder. Money is free speech, right, as per that SCOTUS deci

        • Ideally, elections should be closer to Canada, where there is no advertising permitted so candidates have to stand on their own merits.

          Not sure where you heard that, but we definitely have election advertising in Canada. [elections.ca] The main difference to the USA is that in Canada you can only run election advertising in the 37 days prior to the election (which helps limit the never-ending election cycle where candidates are in determinant campaign mode) and no advertising on the actual day of the election (which may

        • There are many parties influencing the election. What is the difference between anonymous donations that are protected as free speech (under the Citizens United verdict) hiring shills versus a sovereign nation doing the same thing. Ideally, elections should be closer to Canada, where there is no advertising permitted so candidates have to stand on their own merits.

          Or just dispense with the pretexts, and just auction the seats off to the highest bidder. Money is free speech, right, as per that SCOTUS decision.

          Just to be clear as I understand it, in Canada:

          1. During an election period, only candidates and parties can run ads for or against candidates and parties and both candidates and parties have strict and separate spending limits.
          2. During an election period, groups that are not political parties can spend money on issue based advertising but may not endorse or oppose specific candidates or parties.
          3. Outside of the election period, there are no limits on spending.

          The previous Canadian governing party, the Conservati

          • And how does Canada enforce such laws if the ads are being run on the internet from outside Canadian borders?
        • That would absolutely run afoul of first amendment protections here. Canada and most of Europe are definitely heading down a slippery pro-censorship slope in this area as of late, so I personally wouldn't ever be in favor of anything that erodes the first amendment, or else we could very well do the same.

          • My question is... where does the First Amendment end and overt bribery begin? As it stands now, the CU verdict has pretty much put any electable seat in the country up for sale. Or, do we just want to say that the invisible hand will take care of all this, as we ride down the lassez faire ideology into another Great Depression?

            • by clodney ( 778910 )

              My question is... where does the First Amendment end and overt bribery begin? As it stands now, the CU verdict has pretty much put any electable seat in the country up for sale. Or, do we just want to say that the invisible hand will take care of all this, as we ride down the lassez faire ideology into another Great Depression?

              Actually, it is not true that elections are for sale. Because of gerrymandering, most seats are so safe for one party or the other that even huge amounts of cash don't budge the needle meaningfully. Political advertising and campaign spending matters, but no matter what you spend, you aren't going to elect Hillary in rural Mississippi, or Trump in Berkeley.

              Now the behavior of elected officials may be influenced by donations to reelection campaigns, but mostly that is when they are in and safely incumbent.

              • This is why Gerrymandering needs to be attacked at the state level across the country. At the very least, an elected bi partisan group (independents are not bi partisan) of non-legislators who will not seek legislative office during the period they partake in redistricting should be in place in every state. Best situation, the above group, but the required use of a mathematical construct to ensure closed and compact districts that maximize the required population with the minimum perimeter needs to exist.
            • My question is... where does the First Amendment end and overt bribery begin?

              Speech alone inherently cannot be bribery.

              As it stands now, the CU verdict has pretty much put any electable seat in the country up for sale.

              No, it really hasn't. There have been many elections since CU that put this notion completely to rest. During Colorado's state senatorial recall election, John Morse outspent his opponent 11 to 1, and still lost anyways. Hillary's campaign + superpacs outspent Trump's by 6 to 1, and look how that turned out.

              But most importantly, remember Larry Lessig's Mayday PAC? I remember myself saying that it's not going to work here on slashdot, and he and his contributors foun

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        The real irony is that Trump bitched up a storm all of 2016 about how everyone was out to get him, and he was the underdog, when in reality, he had plenty of "help" getting elected.
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        But it's not just dumb people. Confirmation bias is baked into human cognition, and it's hard to overcome; even if you're inclined, it bites everyone on the ass.

        Bandwagon effect too. It's easy to see when other people who you disagree with indulge in it, but I strongly suspect everyone does. And, in a natural enviornment (e.g. small hunter gatherer groups) the bandwagon effect is probably a useful heuristic. But it makes the social media the most powerful amplifier of propaganda ever. It's no longer Bi

    • But now he doesn't care because it was rigged in his favor.

  • by Charlie B ( 5083285 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @11:57AM (#55188821)
    Just call it 'lies'.
    • Because then you have to admit it's always been around and you don't have to fall for it. Coin a new term and no one will blame your innocent self for trusting it.

      • Because then you have to admit it's always been around and you don't have to fall for it.

        +5. The Internet has always been a source of some pretty ridiculous disinformation, but it's a new phenomenon created by the alt-right when it might have affected your preferred candidate.

    • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @12:24PM (#55189073)

      One man's lies are another's news these days.

      Inventing news for the sake of ratings is more of the issue here than outright lies. Sometimes it's more about what they choose to report on than that the reporting is false. I learned about this a long time ago...

      I was watching the local news reporting covering a Senate campaign in North Carolina (Jessie Helms was running for re-election for who knows how many times..). I remember a day when both candidates had rallies in Raleigh on the same day and the local TV news on WRAL covered both events on the evening news. For the challenger's rally, they covered the candidates speech, which was highly critical of the incumbent. Nothing wrong with that right? Yea, but for the incumbent's rally they covered only the protestors that shoed up, who where (you guessed it) highly critical of Senator Helms, but didn't choose to report on anything Helms said. Yes, they covered both rallies, but ALL the reporting was critical of Senator Helms. THEN they reported on a poll they had taken, that showed the incumbent loosing the upcoming election by nearly 10%... Helms won by nearly 20% in the election 2 weeks later.

      This is how "fake news" is made. Nothing they reported on was actually a out right lie, it all was true. However, the perception is that Helms was loosing the election because everybody was critical of him and the polling showed it. The perception was fake...

      I'll leave it to you to apply this to today's political reporting... But "Fake news" is not always untrue, sometimes it's just really biased in it's selection of the reported facts that makes it fake.

      • by Tranzistors ( 1180307 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @01:17PM (#55189603)

        "Fake news" is not always untrue, sometimes it's just really biased

        Nope. One sided, biased news is not fake news. Even deceit by omission is not fake news. This is why Fox News and Daily Mail is not Fake News. It is fake when it is just a fabrication. Those guys in Macedonia are not selectively covering real events, they are making shit up. Remember when Pope Francis endorsed Trump? This is what Fake News is. This is what the friendly article is about.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          I would say in most cases there is no practical or moral difference between lying by omission and lying by false statements. The effect is the same: to establish an untrue picture of reality in the recipient's mind. The method by which you do this is just a minor detail.

          There is, however, another class of untruth which ihas always been important politically but has become even more important in recent years: bullshit.

          Bullshit is distinct from a normal lie in that the target is not the recipient's factual b

        • by skam240 ( 789197 )

          One sided news can be fake news. Take one of my favorites from years passed, Fox's "War and Christmas". Every year Fox would dig up any little story about some one being an ass hole about Christmas and would then declare that there was a liberal war on Christmas. I'm sure the stories were mostly true but as for the war? Pure fabrication.

      • News is all about the ratings, and that means having stories that are new and novel and interesting. Not necessarily intended to be fake. The new candidate was new, and thus what the new guy had to say was the news, as well as interesting. The old candidate had run many times before so what the old guy had to say was not news, it's been said so much it's a bit boring by now. Protesters however are interesting so they get covered. That's why the headlines that people read are "Man Bites Dog" and they don

      • Ron Paul received this sort of treatment when he ran for president (as R) in 2012. His censorship from the press prepared me for Sanders' run in 2016. The tricks were the same...

        Paul had second place in the Iowa primaries, but his name was never mentioned by the mainstream media. They seamlessly transitioned from first to third place without blinking an eye. An uninformed primary voter would not have heard of Ron Paul. If I recall correctly, he was unable to purchase ads in key markets.

        Fast forwa
      • by Evtim ( 1022085 )

        Thank you for the very good example!

        I guess there is a reason behind the oath you need to take in court. The truth, the whole truth and noting but the truth, if I remember right. Deviation from those requirements results in information which is unreliable, can be misleading and basically amounts to a lie, as you point out. Sounds quite reasonable to me...see also logical deconstruction of an average advertisement. Everything stated in the ad is true, yet it misleads you to draw conclusion about the product

    • Because the word "lie" says that you are making a deliberate false statement. this implies that you know the truth or there is reasonable expectation that you know the truth. Also you are in a situation where you are expected to be telling the truth; for instance if we are playing poker and I act like or tell you I have two aces that is not considered a lie since it is expected that I could be misrepresenting what I have.
      In this case they are making up stories based on know truthful facts then adding
      • Because the word "lie" says that you are making a deliberate false statement.

        So does "fake news".

        In this case they are making up stories based on know truthful facts then adding commentary that is made up.

        In other words, "fake news" is just an opinion that differs from your own.

        This was based on the original reporter looking at two pictures that were from a different angle, distance and light. Would it be reasonable to a journalist to understand those items, probably not so it is not a lie.

        Journalists not understanding common photographic effects? I think they certainly should have understood that. Photos are a stock-in-trade for journalists, and they've certainly all seen tens, if not hundreds of them, during their careers.

    • Just call it 'lies'.

      “Lies” are too generic. Compare “Veles, riverside town in Macedonia, where fake news are made” and “Veles, riverside town in Macedonia, where lies are made”. The second one sounds like an advertisement for tourist attraction. “Fake news” are a specific kind of lies.

    • by porges ( 58715 )

      The original canonical example of "fake news" was something called the "Denver Guardian", which was a single false story framed (literally, in the html sense!) as being a report in an online outlet for a real newspaper. There is no such newspaper, either print or online, but the entire site made it seem otherwise. To my mind, the term has been diluted to shift attention away from such obvious frauds.

    • Fakes news are lies, but not all lies are fake news. Sometimes it necessary to be specific.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      "Lie" is the genus and "fake news" is the species.

      However, if I were to choose a more helpful term than "fake news", I'd use "propaganda".

    • Because it's a specific kind of lying. Perjury is another example.

      It's like saying, why call them robins when we can just call them "birds"?

  • but this is why you want liberal arts majors. You've got millions of folks who just aren't sharp enough for science & engineering but they _can_ make it through a liberal arts degree. Believe it or not critical thinking is a skill that can be taught, it just takes time and effort. And there are advantages to having an electorate who's learned that skill.
  • New York and Los Angeles undoubtedly will still have the lock on supplying fake news in 2020. In case you have forgotten that's where all the stories about how wonderful Hillary was came from and how she was a lock in for the win.

  • I am currently building a web-domain ranking whose main metric is counting (properly-weighted) backlinks. This has allowed me to have a quite good understanding about another online fake reality, which is likely to also be closely related to these fake news: domains whose sole purpose is to backlink others as a way to improve their visibility. I have found quite a few situations involving various thousands of different domains, repeating the same or similar content or even not content at all and linking to
  • Over 100 websites were tracked here during the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, producing fake news that mostly favored Republican candidate for President Donald Trump.

    They should try self-reflecting on why almost every major news organization and poll showed Clinton winning before the election. Maybe the problem isn't that a handful of websites which favored Trump somehow skewed the election. Maybe it's that the media's expectation for the election was skewed from reality.

    The one poll [latimes.com]

    • They should try self-reflecting on why almost every major news organization and poll showed Clinton winning before the election.

      Because for some strange reason the national polls don't weight the votes by the electoral weight of the state. It's weird.

  • The headline saying Trump is going to jail tomorrow or the one saying Hillary wants to commit suicide are just made up? Now I feel better about not clicking on them, I was so worried that I missed out on the story of the century.
  • Bana Alabed is a seven-year-old Syrian Girl. She's also a pawn in the propaganda war. CNN manufactured a story of a seven-year-old Syrian girl asking America to liberate Syria from its tyrant president. Problem is, she doesn't understand English, so her CNN interview is implausible.

    https://www.youtube.com/result... [youtube.com]

  • The internet is the greatest tool ever invented for education and sharing information - it can greatly strengthen democracy, and has become a serious threat to private industry's control over governments. We're seeing three main tactics to counter this:

    Destroy faith in government.
    Do this and you also destroy faith in the vote, and democracy itself. The vote is dangerous because it can't be controlled. Strangely, "government is bad" has long been a classic conservative standby. Power not claimed by gover

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