Anatomy of Fake News

As far as I know the story I’m linking to below is true and genuine. It has distressing elements to it as it concerns a murder-suicide in 2011.

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Couple-found-in-burned-home-died-of-gunshot-wounds-1687348.php

The relevance of that story to this post comes several years later. Specifically in November 2016 in the closing days of the US Presidential Election.

A website claiming to be the ‘Denver Guardian’ carried a news story that an FBI agent was dead in an apparent murder-suicide. The story gained extra attention because it claimed that the dead agent was involved in the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email account. http://www.snopes.com/fbi-agent-murder-suicide/

Of course none of this was true. However, this wasn’t a parody story or even a wacky conspiracy theory blog but rather a website that had been carefully tailored to look like a genuine newspaper website (at least superficially) and the story carried journalistic details such as:

Brown is believed to have started the gasoline-fueled fire but spared the life of his beloved beagle, Dixie. “Prior to the fire, he dropped off the dog at a neighbor’s house,” Frederick said. “He put the dog in a neighbor’s backyard.”

A neighbor told WHAG that Brown appeared “panicked” though it is unclear whether his wife was dead before or after the dog was removed from their home.

In reality we have another case of the ghoulish introduction of the dead into an election. These details were lifted from the story I quoted earlier. Here is the comparable section from the genuine 2011 story.

“Prior to the fire, he brought the animals to neighbors,” Grassi said. “He put his dog in a neighbor’s yard and took her dogs to another neighbor.”

Those neighbors reported that Hockenberry appeared to be “in panic mode,” though it is unclear whether his wife was dead before or after the dogs were removed from their home.

The ‘Denver Guardian’ site still exists but the link to the fake story is dead. A web archive version remains: http://web.archive.org/web/20161105221744/http://denverguardian.com/2016/11/05/fbi-agent-suspected-hillary-email-leaks-found-dead-apparent-murder-suicide/

The aim of this fake news story is not necessarily political. The page carries Google ad-sense adverts and at the bottom of the page are the classic click-bait promoted stories. Both of these elements drive money towards whoever owns the site. Creating a salacious and extraordinary story encourages people to share it – driving more traffic and more advertising revenue.

While parody news has been mistaken for real news, fake news of the kind described above is something else. It is intentional and it is driven by perverse incentives created by Facebook and Google. If there is a political bias to it, then that bias may be due to partisan creating fake stories but I suspect it is more likely con-artists simply looking for the most fertile ground.

As things stand both Google and Facebook are really only beginning to think about taking this issue seriously.

 

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24 comments

  1. Mark

    Then there’s the use of twitter bots to jam up hashtags – I’m not convinced they’re able to operate more coherently than that at the moment, but hashtags are vulnerable to those tactics.
    The spread of entirely false news over facebook seems to be because there’s literally no incentive for them to remove false stories. It’s the chain email problem of the 2000s supercharged by technology.

    Like

  2. David Brain

    Indeed. It’s the broken “ad economy” that is the problem, not necessarily the fake news as such.
    I’m not even convinced that the analysis of this fake story – https://hapgood.us/2016/11/13/fake-news-does-better-on-facebook-than-real-news/ – is correct in asserting that the horrifyingly large number of shares that this particular story got is entirely relevant on a political level; we have no idea what else was going on in the background. If this was a long con related to click throughs then there might be lots of explanations.
    We just have to accept that late-period capitalism is fcuked and that we don’t know what’s going on any more, let alone have any hope of solving it in the short-term. The question I guess is whether we’ll make it to the medium- or long-term at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thephantom182

    Only one question, Camestros. Who decides what “fake” is?

    Also, I find the timing ‘interesting.’ Nobody was giving a rip about “fake” news until November the 9th. Previously the screeching was all about “trolling.”

    Like

    • Aaron

      Who decides what “fake” is?

      People who can tell the difference between a fantasy and a story backed by facts and evidence. I know this is difficult for you to fathom given how often you cite fake news reports.

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      • thephantom182

        “People who can tell the difference between a fantasy and a story backed by facts and evidence.”

        Oh, right. You mean like the people who had Hillary at 80% to win on the 8th, based on deliberately oversampling minorities? Or people like Noam Chomsky, who can like -totally- prove that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history? Or the “trending news” department at Facebook, who told that “trending” meant whatever they were told to post?

        WHO DECIDES, Aaron? Specifically. Who?

        Because the -government- is run by your political enemies now. People who are fascist/racist/bigot/homophobes and want to stuff you in a cattle car. Remember? People who would not shrink from nationalizing Facebook/Twitter/Google and making it into the Voice of Amerika.

        That’s what you think, isn’t it? So, wouldn’t more government regulation and supervision be a -bad- thing for you, right about now? Trump will put Anne Coulter in charge of the National Social Media, and your news feed will be fascist propaganda 24/7.

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  4. Aaron

    Oh, right. You mean like the people who had Hillary at 80% to win on the 8th, based on deliberately oversampling minorities?

    No one was oversampling minorities. That’s a fabrication, and it has been shown to be a fabrication multiple times now. You really need to learn to distinguish fantasy from reality. Clinton won the popular vote convincingly – she won more votes than any other candidate in history whose name was not Obama. Trump got the same level of support that Republicans have gotten for the last four election cycles. That was what the polls showed was going to happen.

    Or people like Noam Chomsky, who can like -totally- prove that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history?

    You seem not to be able to understand the difference between “opinion” and “fact”. This must make life very difficult for you. It has certainly made you a very gullible and intellectually dishonest person.

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  5. Aaron

    Or the “trending news” department at Facebook, who told that “trending” meant whatever they were told to post?

    “trending” was based on an algorithim that allowed fabricated stories to be reported as fact. The gullibility right-wing was ruthlessly exploited by people who made up stories you lapped up and still haven’t figured out aren’t true. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/11/17/facebook-fake-news-writer-i-think-donald-trump-is-in-the-white-house-because-of-me/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_fake-news-845a%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

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  6. Aaron

    Just in case anyone needs a refresher in how completely gullible and dishonest Phantom is, he has claimed that the protestors currently protesting president-elect Trump were paid. The problem is, his “source” is a story that not only has turned out to be false, it was a complete fabrication. When Facebook and Google talk about weeding out “fake news” they are talking about weeding this sort of shit out, not weeding out whether Chomsky has an opinion about the GOP that Phantom doesn’t like.

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    • Mark

      So, not just a dodgy report but a 100% deliberate fabrication? Swallowed hook line and sinker? Hilarious.
      Personally, I have minimum standards for posting things, like “can’t be falsified with a single Google search”, and “my link says the thing I claim it does”, but I guess not everyone wants to appear credible.

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    • thephantom182

      “No one was oversampling minorities. That’s a fabrication, …”

      That was in Podesta’s email on wikileaks. Strike one.

      “The problem is, his “source” is a story that not only has turned out to be false, it was a complete fabrication.”
      That’s not my source. That’s something I’ve never seen before. My source is 60% of the Portland rioters arrested were from out of state. Chicago rioters were bused in, also many from out of state. Arrest records. Who paid for the buses, Aaron? Who paid for hotel rooms? Strike two.

      ““trending” was based on an algorithim that allowed fabricated stories to be reported as fact.”

      No, Aaron. “Trending” was based on the whim of the Facebook News team, all of whom got fired. Remember that? They were replaced by an “algorithm” according to the Facebook press release at the time.

      Strike three. You’re out.

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      • Aaron

        That was in Podesta’s email on wikileaks. Strike one.

        The e-mail was from 2008, and was about internal campaign polling, not public polling. It wasn’t even an e-mail from Podesta. This has been pointed out to you before. You really are bad at facts aren’t you?

        That’s not my source. That’s something I’ve never seen before. My source is 60% of the Portland rioters arrested were from out of state. Chicago rioters were bused in, also many from out of state. Arrest records.

        The claim about the majority of arrested Portland protestors being from out of state is false. The claim about Charlotte protesors being from out of state is also false. The claim that the protesors were bussed in is false. This has all been pointed out to you before.

        No, Aaron. “Trending” was based on the whim of the Facebook News team, all of whom got fired.

        The claim that trending was based on the “whim of the Facebook news team” is unsupported by evidence. Immediately after the team was replaced by an algorithim, the “trending” was filled with fake news.

        So on the accuracy front, you’re not doing so well. In fact, you’re batting .000. Perhaps you should check to see if your alleged “facts” are actually true before you try the “strike one, two, three” routine again. It might make you look less like an intellectually dishonest coward.

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      • JJ

        Yeah, I don’t think it’s Aaron whose “game is over”. It’s yours.

        You shouldn’t be surprised that no one here is willing to believe you on anything, given your long and storied history of
        1) providing credible links which don’t actually support your position
        2) not providing credible links which actually do support your position
        3) providing non-credible links and insisting that they are “facts”
        4) continuing to claim that your position is true when numerous people have provided copious amounts of documented evidence that it’s not.

        It’s a mystery to me why you continue to post here and repeatedly make a sad joke of yourself. I guess that it’s because Mike banned you from File770, and among the Puppies on their blogs, you’re just one of a bunch of loonies who are pretty much indistinguishable from each other.

        You know, being a distinguishable loonie here is not exactly something to which to aspire — and it mystifies me as to why you continue to do so.

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      • ligne

        “Who paid for the buses, Aaron? Who paid for hotel rooms? Strike two.”

        the Reverse Vampires?

        we’re through the looking glass, people.

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      • ligne

        it’s a joke from the Simpsons: a love tonic is causing all the parents to rush home after work for sexyfuntimes. the kids are mystified by what is going on, and latch onto the idea that they’re reverse vampires who have to get home before dark. it also involves the Saucer People and the Rand Corporation.

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      • Aaron

        I’m sorry Aaron, you’re out now. Game over.

        Says the man whose pitches don’t even make it to the plate. You’ve been throwing stuff into the dirt halfway to home plate and calling them strikes. The problem you have is that it is obvious that your “pitches” are all lies.

        Other commentors here, including me, have shown time and again that virtually every claim you make is false, using citations to back up our positions. You, on the other hand, have been embarrassed so often that you refuse to post links to back up any of your claims. You’ve tried to obfuscate your reason for not posting links, but we all know the truth: You know they are lies, and that people will look them up and then point out why they are lies, with quotes and citations to back up their position.

        You don’t want to face the truth, which is that your political positions are build on falsehoods. Instead, you try to bluster your way through because you are too embarrassed to admit the truth. That is what makes you an intellectually dishonest coward.

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      • ligne

        more seriously, this is partly why i doubt that “Coastal Elites need to try and understand Real American conservatives” (and its equivalents over here in the UK) will have limited success. there’s been a concerted effort on the Right to both create misinformation and burn down the institutions that might otherwise be able to counter it. someone can simply invent a “news” story, and it’ll get twice round the world before it can be rebutted — which won’t be believed anyway.

        (that’s not to say that there isn’t false information from the Left, but i’ve not seen anything on remotely the same scale — either in volume, scope or sheer brazenness.)

        fwiw, i think the other big problem is that any exchange of views needs to be a reciprocal effort. yet there’s not been any particular expectation that they should accept that others have no problem with immigrants or Muslims or gay people or whatever. if anything there’s an ongoing attempt to drive the wedge in deeper.

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      • Mark

        In terms of misinformation from the left, there’s always the fringe actors who manage to make everyone else look bad of course. What the right will inevitably point to as falsehoods from the left are those pesky ideas that prejudice is bad, that sexism still exists, that calling them out on any racism more subtle than wearing a white hood is bullying, etc etc etc. So not the same, but when you’re looking for false equivalences they’re easy to find.

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  7. Mark

    I’ll just drop this one here for the record

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/business/media/how-fake-news-spreads.html?_r=1

    Short version – it follows the claim that protesters in Austin were bused in back to the original source, shows that that source had no evidence and was conclusively wrong – the buses belonged to a nearby conference – and then follows how the story spread despite being obviously wrong.
    Shows pretty clearly why any similar claims need proper evidence – the people repeating them are obviously too credulous and incapable of critically examining what they read.

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  8. Johan P

    Like Mark, I’ll drop this here for the record: “We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned”
    http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs

    NPR have tracked down the man behind the “Denver Guardian” story on the dead FBI agent. Short version: The guy claims to have started making up news to show how gullible people are, by revealing the fraud and saying “ha, look how many fell for this.” Currently he seems to be doing it mostly for the money.

    Money quote: “We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.”

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    • Mark

      Ha!

      I like the quote but I’m not going to run as far as saying that liberals are fundamentally less gullible than conservatives (and to be fair I don’t think the interviewee is saying that either) it’s more that special strain who are rejecting “conventional” sources of info as biased and sort of walling themselves into this gullibility trap.

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