Ever wonder how much the writers of those Facebook fake news articles earn? Is it really possible to earn a comfortable living picking trending topics, thinking of a sensationalist and false spin to those topics, and passing the hoax article off as legitimate news? A new report claims that writing these articles could earn their creators thousands of dollars in advertising revenue per month.
Earlier this week, tech giants Google (through parent company Alphabet) and Facebook announced crackdowns on bogus news reports, with both firms announcing initiatives designed to hit the fake news writers where it hurts – their wallet. According to Business Insider, Google is working on a policy change that would prohibit websites with fake content from earning via its AdSense advertising platform. Facebook’s anti-fake news initiatives focused on changing its advertising policies to classify hoax websites as having “deceptive and misleading” content.
Following accusations that Facebook helped elect Donald Trump as U.S. President, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke out on the issue in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, saying that the percentage of phony articles on the platform was too small to have influenced the elections’ outcome.
“Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.”
However, Facebook posts promoting fake news aren’t limited to American events and target readers. A report from the New York Times talked about how the trend is “often stronger overseas,” and how readers from developing countries are often more easily fooled into believing the hoax articles and images. One example took place in the Philippines, where a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte published a photo of a young girl’s corpse, with the girl purportedly having been raped and murdered by a drug dealer. Although it was revealed that the photo actually originated from Brazil, many of Duterte’s supporters still saw the photo as justification for the Philippine president’s allegedly violent war on illegal drugs.
But how much do these Facebook-based fake news writers earn? According to the Washington Post, the amount of money could reach as much as $5,000 to $10,000 per month. The publication cited an interview it had with Paul Horner, the owner of an ersatz ABC News site that impersonates the news network’s logo and has a very credible-looking URL, as well as an authentic, if “rudimentary” interface. According to Horner, he makes “like $10,000 a month” worth of AdSense advertising revenue.
That’s about twice the amount of money several Macedonian teenagers make by purveying fake news on U.S. events. BuzzFeed‘s Craig Silverman spoke to one of those teens, who said fake Donald Trump news articles could earn them as much as $5,000 a month.
The Washington Post interviewed Horner earlier this week, as the 38-year-old Facebook fake news “impresario” took credit for Donald Trump’s election victory.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
While Zuckerberg was vehement in denying the role of hoax articles in assisting Trump’s election day victory, it cannot be denied that Facebook users shared tons of fake news articles in the run-up to the elections. The Washington Post mentioned a report claiming Pope Francis endorsed Trump as president in an official statement that had gotten more than 100,000 shares. Even more egregiously, the article “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE” (capitalized accordingly for sensationalism) got over 500,000 shares, while a twist on the “Ending the Fed” hoax was shared over 900,000 times.
Additionally, the Post looked at how easy it is for fake news writers to make much more than legitimate writers do. Even if some of their sites are “tough to look at” with poorly-formatted articles and writers having a tenuous grasp of the English language, all it takes is just one click, as well as a way for these content creators to share their pieces.
That platform, in most cases, was Facebook. Fake news writers were able to dupe thousands of people into sharing their work, but according to the Washington Post, these people included some “political personalities connected to the Trump campaign,” who bought into the hoaxes and shared the articles anyway.
According to New School associate professor of media design David Carroll, this added unwanted credibility to the fake news writers, yet lined their pockets with even more money. He believes that fake news shares from Trump campaign officials on social media could have netted writers up to $10,000 worth of revenue for the share. As such, writers have a “huge economic incentive” to create bogus stories on the Internet.
But even with Google and Facebook’s fake news crackdowns potentially costing them a good deal of revenue, Carroll added that their recent crackdowns still “show an initial willingness” to sacrifice money in the name of legitimate content.
[Featured Image by marekuliasz/iStock]