BuzzFeed editor gives real facts about fake news

Published on Friday, 17 February 2017 21:00
Written by Lorenzo Burgio

Special to the Herald

NEW BRITAIN - The modern-day media model of aggregating an audience so advertisers can easily reach their target audience has led to an increase in hyper-partisan websites, BuzzFeed Media Editor Craig Silverman said Thursday night at Central Connecticut State University. This model of using social media only for profit results in “economic incentives that drive fake news,” Silverman said.

“Right now over a hundred fake news sites can be found,” said Silverman. These sites are intentionally created to be completely false with one goal in mind, to make money.

These are commonly small sites being created by low-income teenagers in various countries, particularly Macedonia, as a source of income, he said. “On average, for $400 a month they can start a domain for cheap,” said Silverman. After creating a website and publishing false articles, the teens will create fake social media accounts that share and like the articles, to make it appear that the site gets a lot of traffic to profit from advertisers who are commonly unaware it is a fake news site, he said.

This tactic is also used to get a hashtag to trend and use fake or automated accounts to continuously retweet the hashtag, then delete the accounts, said Silverman. “Anyone can register a domain name and create a site,” he said.

Silverman explained in the presentation that he recently interviewed two 16-year-old teenagers in Canada who run a fake news site that solely writes about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. When he asked how they come up with ideas, they responded, “You just have to tell people what they want to hear.”

The development of fake news sites seems to be strictly for profit while social media clears the path for it to be spread, particularly because of the algorithmic filtering and lack of differentiating in news feeds, explained Silverman. “All of us, because of social media, can possibly share fake stuff.” This puts avid social media users in a “partisan echo chamber,” he said.

These “purely partisan and purely emotionally driven” sites thrive off individuals who rely on social media for news. Fake news sites use emotionally driven articles to receive a reaction that gets them more traffic, explained Silverman. “It makes an argument they want to push forward.”

The more someone is exposed to misleading information that coincides with their beliefs, the more likely they are to believe it, explained Silverman.

“This is why fake news really took off during the election,” said Silverman, referring to the idea that there were paid protesters. The story was completely false, on a fake site and displayed a fake Craigslist advertisement. This resulted in two of Donald Trump’s campaign managers and son tweeting out the story. “Now anytime there is an anti-Trump protest, the debate of paid protesters comes up,” said Silverman.

“Saying paid protesters exist, led to fake websites and ads for paid protesters, which made people believe it’s true. Then people on trolling, message boards said they were arrested for protesting after being paid,” said Silverman. “People like to make stuff up and stir the pot on social media.”

The spread of fallacies comes at a time where the average person is regularly overloaded with information. According to Silverman, more than 500 million tweets are sent and more than 55 million Instagram photos are posted.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, CCSU on Friday, 17 February 2017 21:00. Updated: Friday, 17 February 2017 21:02.