‘Fake news’ becomes a business model: researchers

Is this fake news? Duh? Hello? I’ve been writing about this for a long time and researchers just notice that “fake news” is “a profitable business model”?

Cyber criminals have latched onto the notion of “fake news” and turned it into a profitable business model, with services starting at under $10, security researchers said Thursday. The online security firm Digital Shadows released a report highlighting services aimed at creating bogus media

Source: ‘Fake news’ becomes a business model: researchers

Good grief, such insight!

“Like any good news story, content will be shared, liked, reposted and distributed across many different platforms and channels,” the report said.


Holland said misinformation has been around for a long time but that “what has changed in the digital world is the speed such techniques spread around the world.”

Really? I would have never guessed!



Many online product review sites are paid by the company whose products they review

[I wrote this item in October but never published it. In light of the news about TripAdvisor.com deleting and censoring negative reviews, this item is now relevant. While this post is about mattress reviews, the same principle is at work with TripAdvisor – that is, the review site receives a sales commission for sending a sale to the vendor.]

The following link goes to a very long story about online mattress reviews. The short summary is that many mattress companies pay a sponsorship fee to the online reviewers and have taken extraordinary steps to control online reviews. These reviews have turned into “affiliate marketing” with links to the manufacturer or retailer’s web site with a spiff paid to the reviewer. Reviewers might receive $50 to $250 per mattress sold as affiliate marketing commissions.

Source: The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare | Fast Company

As mattress companies put more pressure on reviewers, some reviewers responded by writing negative comments on those that paid them lower spiffs. This eventually translated into lawsuits, followed by settlements and the disappearance of negative product reviews.

Everyone has their hand in someone else’s pockets to the extent that online reviews are today meaningless measure of the actual products. A positive review may be more of an indicator of who is paying whom.

None of this is new. Decades ago, the editor of a well known personal computer industry magazine said they only write positive reviews, and assured us  if they can’t find something positive about a product, then they do not publish a review. (Wink wink).

The only difference is that in the online world, fake reviews are easily accessible and widely distributed and it is easier to create fake review web site. Fake reviews can then be shared on social media.

Note – I probably write twice as many posts as I publish! For what ever reason, I probably have between 100 and 200 unpublished draft posts on this blog!

Facebook Ad scheme looks much like a fake news publishing model

The more we learn about the ads linked variously to parties in Russia, the more they look like online, social media-based, for profit, fake news publishers:

The Facebook ads placed by a Russian troll farm and released on Wednesday by the U.S. Congress Intelligence Committee show that the Russian propaganda campaign of 2016 didn’t favor either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Instead, it mocked and goaded America, holding up a distorted but, in the final analysis, remarkably accurate mirror.


The ads backed white nationalist as well as black causes. They often targeted Clinton before the election but switched to attacking Trump immediately afterwards. The ads against both were even visually similar.


Neither the trolls with their tiny budgets — at best, hundreds of thousands of dollars compared with the hundreds of millions spent by the candidates and their U.S. backers — nor Russian state media with their laughable reach compared with U.S. cable TV could have hoped to shape the election outcome.

Source: Facebook Ads Reveal the Real Russian Game – Bloomberg

If you click the “ads” link you can see some of the ads. They look very similar to the type of inflammatory, emotion hooking posts used by for profit fake news publishers.

There is not enough information released by Congress to tell if these ads linked back to ad supported pages. While links are shown in the metadata files, they go to FB pages that no longer exist.

Avoid TripAdvisor.com? Online reviews were censored, worked as propaganda

Update: TripAdvisor claimed to have apologized about deleting negative reviews but it turns out they lied about their apology: They had not apologized to the victim. One Senator is requesting the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate TripAdvisor over their use of false reviews. TripAdvisor’s stock price fell this week from about $40/share to $31/share and one analyst is forecasting a $28/share price. In August, several analysts had forecast $44-$47 share prices for TRIP.


As noted previously, online reviews of products and services are subject to manipulation. The problem is so bad that at least two online businesses help you identify fake reviews on Amazon.com: FakeSpot and ReviewMeta.

TripAdvisor is an online web site that offers user written travel reviews. But they did not disclose that TripAdvisor deliberately censored certain negative reviews of travel destinations and services according to a long report by USA Today.

TripAdvisor intentionally removed factual negative reviews – such as those by victims of crime and women who were sexually assaulted at facilities. In one example, TripAdvisor removed 27 negative reviews of one resort. Additionally, many of TripAdvisor’s “destination experts” who act as moderators have financial interests in the destination – such as they run a business in the area.

TripAdvisor did not disclose to users of the web site that they censored certain negative reviews.

TripAdvisor is an ad-based service that receives a commission when users click through links on the site to book hotels, for example.

Censorship and Cherry-Picking

Consequently, TripAdvisor became a propaganda operation – using the method of censorship to create artificially positive views of destinations and travel services. The effect is to present users with a cherry-picked selection of overly positive reviews – by censoring truthful bad reviews.

USA Today: TripAdvisor removed warnings about rapes and injuries at Mexico resorts, tourists say.

Update: TripAdvisor says they are no longer censoring reviews.

TripAdvisor official statement acknowledges they did indeed censor certain reviews in the past and blames it on a “family friendly” wording policy such that reporting about a crime in a review was not “family friendly”. TripAdvisor continued this policy for many years, in spite of numerous users trying to get their attention.

The company has a conflict of interest in that their income comes from ad-sales and especially commissions paid by destinations when users click through to purchase travel services.

What we need next is an online review web site – that reviews online review web sites! And which will be filled with bogus reviews too!

Zuckerberg says Facebook is open to social media laws regarding foreign interference

“I’ve expressed how upset I am that the Russians tried to use our tools to sow mistrust,” he said. “What they did is wrong and we are not going to stand for it. For those who have followed Facebook you know that when we set our minds to something, we’re going to do it.”

Source: Zuckerberg Is ‘Dead Serious’ About Russia, Open to Legislation – Bloomberg

Unfortunately, as documented on this blog, there is extensive creation and distribution of fake news and related propaganda from people in the United States.

The root problem is that share-able social media is a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda messaging. No one has identified an effective solution to corral this serious problem.

Users denied access to their own Google Docs for “violating terms of service”

Even if the error turns out to be a technical glitch, the fact that Google is capable of identifying “bad” Google Docs at all is a reminder: Much of what you upload, receive or type to Google is monitored. While many people may be aware that Gmail scans your emails — for instance, so that its smart-reply feature can figure out what responses to suggest — this policy extends to other Google products, too.

Source: Google Docs ‘terms of service violation’ affecting users – The Washington Post

Google admits they scan your email and monitor and log everything you do online. Per the reporter, Google would not say whether they read your Google Docs documents.

There are good reasons to avoid using Chrome, or cloud services like those provided by Google “for free”. Remember, when its free, you are the product that is being sold.

Update from Google – apparently they do scan our documents.

Hi everyone,

This issue should now be resolved and you should be able to access your files.

For more details, this morning, we made a code push that incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked. A fix is in place and all users should have full access to their docs. Protecting users from viruses, malware, and other abusive content is central to user safety. We apologize for the disruption and will put processes in place to prevent this from happening again.



Google Docs Community

Faceback ads reach 4 out of every 3 teens in the U.S.!

Facebook ads also reach 12 out of every 7 young adults in the U.S.!

Facebook makes up their advertising reach numbers:

According to Facebook, there are 41 million adults between the ages of 18 and 24. However, according to data from the U.S. census, there are just 31 million. Facebook also says there are 60 million between the ages of 25 and 34, while the U.S. census puts its estimate at just 35 million.

Source: Facebook Claims It Reaches More People Than the U.S. Census Data Says Exist – Adweek

And apparently for just $100,000, you can reach 126 million people!

For just a few million $s you could reach trillions of people on earth!


I have not written much about the use of Facebook by propagandists linked to Russia.  These stories may be standard issue social media-based fake news using inflammatory posts designed for online sharing, with the goal of driving eye balls to ad filled web pages. In other words, it just a business.

Teens in Macedonia and other countries (not just Russia) are making a great income writing fake news stories for sharing and selling eyeballs to advertisers, targeting political activists in the U.S.

There are a great many documented fake news publishers, operating on this business model because it works and its profitable!

Inflammatory issue-oriented ads and fake news posts said to have originated with in Russia may be social media-based online publishers, selling eyeballs to advertisers. Who knows? May be there is more to the story but after a year of government investigations, the story mutated from Russia hacked the election to someone in Russia bought Facebook ads and posted fake news. This sounds similar to a classic social media-based, online, for profit, fake news publishing model. There are more descriptions of the postings in this article and they sound a lot like fake news publishing. (Update – But also see this newer post about Internet Research [Agency] – they use the methods of fake news publishers but their goal may not be making a profit. Their social media activities took all sides – for and against candidates and issues: “Their goal is to create confusion and dissent. The target is the U.S. and NATO, not any particular candidate. They just want chaos“.)

The real story here is how surprisingly easy it is for anyone to use Facebook, Twitter and Google as a platform for the mass dissemination of propaganda messaging.

Continue reading

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – Joseph Heller

Here are the set of advertising trackers used by a local newspaper that is part of the USA Today Network, owned by Gannett Communications, the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S.

65 of them on a single page!

Separately, I paged down through my Twitter feed and after a few pages, a total of 119 trackers were blocked – so far. If I continued paging through the feed, even more trackers were blocked.

Trackers could be used merely to determine how many times an ad has been displayed, or how many times seen by the same browser, or to gather information.

In reality, they are tracking as much as possible and stuffing it into giant databases. If you visited 3 web sites that displayed DoubleClick ads, as an example, they can link together your visits between those web sites. Over time, they can discern your interests (do you visit many computer or photography related web sites?) and probably your sex, age and income range. This data is extremely valuable to advertisers as it enables them to target ads right at your interests!

You can block many trackers using browser plug ins or privacy browsers like Epic. You can and should frequently delete your browsing history and “cookies” to reduce the effectiveness of these data collections.


Google AdWords put fake news ads on fact-checking web sites

Funny – Google’s Adwords system has been placing “fake news” ads on web sites like Snopes.com that do fact checking about, often enough, fake news.

Source: Google reportedly put fake news ads on fact-checking sites – CNET

Most professional media sites run fake news advertising right alongside the legitimate stories and advertising. Obviously, they do it to generate revenue but lumping fake news with real news seems a bad choice. Especially if you miss the small, greyed out  “Sponsored content” hovering nearby.

CNN uses manipulation techniques in news story

(Update – the title of this was changed on Oct 13, from “CNN really is a fictional news service” to “CNN uses manipulation techniques in news story”. Please see the added Afterword for more. CNN incorporated basic techniques of manipulation into their reporting about California wildfires in order to enhance the emotional impact of their “stories”, meeting Walter Lippmann’s definition of “yellow journalism”.)

(CNN) More than a dozen wildfires are scorching Northern California, aided by the state’s epic drought, low humidity and high winds.

Source: The California wildfires, by the staggering numbers – CNN

CNN Unaware that Caifornia’s Drought Ended

CNN is unaware that California’s epic drought ended, with Sierra precipitation at twice normal levels. After California’s record precipitation last winter and spring, the state had a traditional hot and dry summer. A good explanation of the common summer and fall weather patterns with dry windy conditions, and long history of autumn wildfires, is here. A similar fire struck the area in 1964, when there was much lower population. Most blame high precipitation last season for strong growth of fuels, not an “epic drought”.

But California’s drought ending with a wet winter served as a double-edged sword.

“It seems like we can’t win when we have four years of drought and then we get all this rain and that fuels the plant growth that contributes to wildfires,” Cal Fire’s Tolmachoff said.

California’s wet winter fueled a boom in plant growth, especially the types of tall grasses that provide perfect tinder once they dry out in the fall. Tolmachoff said Cal Fire saw more fires in lower elevations, where the tall grasses grow and the subdivisions flourish.

(Bold face added to highlight keywords illustrating CNN’s erroneously reporting). Source: Why wildfires are describing so many homes in California – USA Today

FactCheck.org addresses the question is “[Global] Warming to Blame for Western Wildfires?” Their analysis is lengthy, detailed and cites references.

CNN Claims Hurricane Force Winds

CNN then claims (they added the bold face to the story)

The definition of a hurricane force wind is not determined by gusts but by sustained wind over 1 minute duration. See NOAA web page , NOAA definitions and NOAA’s PDF. Further, the 79 mph gust they note was on a mountaintop. Wind gusts were strong (50 mph typical) across the region. CNN created a fictional definition of hurricane force winds to exaggerate a story that does not need exaggeration.

CNN Uses Pejorative Wording

Writing “wicked hurricane force winds” in bold face is an example of pejorative wording and exaggeration to create a higher emotional impact to this story. (As if this story needs a greater emotional impact? Wow.)

CNN Adds a Dramatic Music Soundtrack to the “News”

If you watch their news video at the link above – its accompanied by a dramatic musical sound track to heighten viewer emotions. Stunning illustration of “news reporting” deliberately designed to manipulate your emotions.


CNN makes errors (in the first sentence!), uses their own definition of “hurricane force winds”, inserts bold faced pejorative wording, and adds a dramatic musical sound track to their news report. All of these are standard propaganda techniques.

In CNN’s case, their agenda (presumably) is to sell emotionally engaged eyeballs to advertisers. CNN has adopted the methods of online, for profit, fake news publishers (update – which is to intentionally uses emotional hooks to engage the viewer/reader).

Afterword (Updated)
When news reporters use the methods of propaganda to enhance the emotional response of the viewer, they are losing objectivity.

The news media sees itself as objective. But then runs a news report with an added musical sound track to increase the emotional response of the viewer.

Rather than letting the story tell itself, so to speak, CNN is intentionally manipulating your response with enhancements and exaggerations.

And its not just music, the use of pejorative wording such as “epic” and “wicked” and bold facing “hot” words in their text are examples of connecting the viewer/reader emotionally, rather than objectively.

Should objective news reports use methods of propaganda manipulation?

About 100 years ago, Walter Lippman (someone who had studied and applied methods of propaganda on behalf of the U.S. government in World War I) called for the adoption of objective methods of reporting:

“The modern notion of objectivity in journalism is largely due to the work of Walter Lippmann.[7] Lippmann was the first to widely call for journalists to use the scientific method for gathering information.[8] Lippmann called for journalistic objectivity after the excesses of yellow journalism. He noted that the yellows at the time had served their purpose, but that the people needed to receive the actual news, and not a “romanticized version of it”.[9]”

Lippmann describes “yellow journalism” as a “romanticized version” of the news which is precisely what CNN has done with this near fictional story about California wildfires.

The concept of objectivity became an important issue in news reporting, gaining traction again after World War II, and then again in the 1960s and 1970s as our modern perspective sought impartial and objective news reports. But also see works by Noam Chomsky who argues that the methods of objective reporting become their own form of propaganda.