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.
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.