You may be surprised to know that a large number of the fake news sites that appeared during the US election campaign originated from far beyond the country’s border — Veles, a small city in Macedonia, has a positively booming fake news industry.
According to a recent BBC report, hundreds of teenagers lie behind the city’s flourishing cottage industry, which was the origin of much fake pro-Trump news.
BBC spoke to 19-year-old university student, Goran (not his real name), who disclosed his fake news method: copy and paste an existing news story, repackage it with a more catchy and sensationalist headline, pay Facebook to share it with a particular (carefully targeted) US audience, then let the advertising revenue roll in as that audience clicks on and shares the stories.
Goran claimed that he earned $1,950 in just a month of working on the “news”, with some of his friends making thousands of dollars in a single day.
In a city where the average salary is $375 a month, this is not to be sniffed at.
Although not strictly illegal, it’s easy to see how some might find the idea of fake news possibly influencing voter choices a little uncomfortable — Goran didn’t think Veles’s entrepreneurs would be put off, though.
“Teenagers in our city don’t care how Americans vote,” he commented. “They are only satisfied that they make money and can buy expensive clothes and drinks!”
This attitude is echoed somewhat by the city authorities.
“There’s no dirty money in Veles,” said the mayor, Slavco Chediev, before adding that he’s actually rather proud of the teenagers’ entrepreneurial spirit.
Journalists in the area are concerned, however.
“I worry for young people’s morality in Veles. [...] Since the US elections, all they think about is lies and making a fast buck from lies,” investigative journalist Ubavka Janevska told the BBC, highlighting the potential negative impact of fake news closer to home — if the fake news cycle is replicated during the upcoming election campaigns in Macedonia or nearby Croatia, the consequences could be damaging.
Source: BBC News