Fake news 'factories'

LibertyWritersNews founder Paris Wade (left) and Ben Goldman at work in their California apartment. Their venture illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and
LibertyWritersNews founder Paris Wade (left) and Ben Goldman at work in their California apartment. Their venture illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process.PHOTO: FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Internet giants like Facebook and Google have engaged in soul-searching over their roles in disseminating false news. Google has announced that it will ban websites that host fake news from using its online advertising service, while Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has outlined some of the options his company is considering, including simpler ways for users to flag suspicious content. Reports have emerged of the people behind some of these fake news sites. Here's the story of two 'factories' far removed from each other.

LONG BEACH (California) • Fewer than 2,000 readers are on his website when Paris Wade, 26, awakens from a nap, reaches for his laptop and thinks he needs to, as he puts it, "feed" his audience. "Man, no one is covering this TPP thing," he says after seeing an article suggesting that President Barack Obama wants to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership before he leaves office.

Mr Wade, a modern-day digital opportunist, sees an opportunity. He begins typing a story. "CAN'T TRUST OBAMA," he writes as the headline, then pauses. His audience hates Mr Obama and loves President-elect Donald Trump, and he wants to capture that disgust and cast it as a drama between good and evil. He resumes typing: "Look At Sick Thing He Just Did To STAB Trump In The Back... " Ten minutes and nearly 200 words later, he is done with a story that is all opinion, innuendo and rumour.

He types at the bottom, "Comment 'DOWN WITH THE GLOBALISTS!' below if you love this country", publishes the story to his website, LibertyWritersNews.com, and then pulls up the Facebook page he uses to promote the site, which in six months has collected 805,000 followers and brought in tens of millions of page views.

"WE CANNOT LET THIS HAPPEN!" he writes. "#SHARE this 1 million times, patriots!"

 
 
 

Then he looks at a nearby monitor that shows the site's analytics, and watches as the readers pour in.

At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the divided America of 2016, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process.

Six months ago, Mr Wade and his business partner, Mr Ben Goldman, were jobless restaurant workers. Now they are at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they do not want people to start asking for loans.

"Violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to... Our audience does not trust the mainstream media," Mr Goldman, 26, says.

"We're the new yellow journalists," Mr Wade will say after a day and night when the number of people following LibertyWritersNews on Facebook will swell by more than 20,000.

The two men now have a lawyer and an accountant, employ other writers and are expanding so quickly they are surprised to think that, until recently, they had spent their lives scraping by.

WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Meet the new 'yellow journalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe