Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
We Tracked Down a Fake-News Creator in the Suburbs (npr.org)
358 points by _qc3o on Nov 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments



This was the most interesting part for me...

--------

He says he got into fake news around 2013 to highlight the extremism of the white nationalist alt-right.

"The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction," Coler says.

--------

So in this case, the fake news was created by the left to discredit the alt-right, rather than by the alt-right to promote their views. Oh man. I don't think this tactic can lead to anything good. I hope we don't get to the point where it's really just all out information warfare... and it seems like we're already halfway there.


>the fake news was created by the left to discredit the alt-right

I would say that this individual who was a liberal tried to do this. This isn't like a group of leftists conspiring to do (anti-)propaganda. It is pretty stupid, and his continuation of it is extremely confusing.

Sorry, but a side rant to the more "entrepreneurial" startup-cats who browse here. Would you consider this fellow and others like him an entrepreneur? I ask because there is talk in the article that he is one. Even if you take him at his word that he is trying to highlight the problem of disinformation rather than profit off of it, it seems quite suspect to me.

A good analogy here is a cook serving spoiled food to highlight healthy and safe cooking habits, regardless of who it hurts. It makes no sense.


Spoiled food makes no sense indeed. However, what this guy does makes definitely business sense.

People do not care about the truth.

+ Fake news goes viral.

+ Medium tells people that the ones who passed away still love and talk to them.

+ Religion in general.

+ Advertisements about medicines with fake doctors.

+ Advertisements in general.

+ Gossip.

+ Sensationalized scientific breakthroughs.

And then there is a lot not true, but it is at least within a context clear that it is not true, like fairy tales and literature. All the other examples are however disinformation and people doing business using it.


The continuation of it could be explained purely by the financial insentives from advertising on the sites. It doesn't sound like he would have any morale qualms with the whole situation.

Sounds pretty entrepreneurial to me.


Definitely, that's what I got out of it. Actually a pretty interesting win, telling tales. There's a market for this flavor of fiction and it'll spawn businesses and generate revenue like any other.


The term "entrepreneur" is value-neutral. It refers to someone who successfully forms a business venture by noticing and taking advantage of an opportunity or need.


> The term "entrepreneur" is value-neutral.

Even on Hacker News?


Isn't "successful" a value-term?

Aren't there "entrepreneurs" who repeatedly fail?

My interpretation of entrepreneur is someome who fails with other people's money.

The one you described is just a business person.


I found this to very shady. He claimed that he first started with the fake news to: "then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction"

But then why didn't he stop when that didn't work? I would guess that it's just a way to try to rationalize his shady business to himself.


Whether he meant to or not, he made a product that found its market.

I agree it was a terrible idea.


> I hope we don't get to the point where it's really just all out information warfare... and it seems like we're already halfway there.

We live in a world where the Daily Mail is the most-visited English language news web site and people are using fucking toasters to launch DDOS attacks.

The internet has gone to hell. We've already lost.


It's not all bad. We're here, aren't we?


Going totally OT here for a sec, but you guys are awesome. Seriously. This is one of the only places I feel I can come where people are, for the most part, respectful and polite to each other. Nobody is pushing a personal agenda with religion, politics or ethics. Nobody is trying to convince you the world is flat or that aliens built the pyramids. Nobody cares if you're male/female/trans/whatever. Just a bunch of folks talking about their passion without the overhead (for want of a better word) of the everyday web.

Places like HN are rare these days. If there is anything similar, please let me know.


Overall, HN is pretty good because people here care a lot about facts.

If, however, you don't think there are echo chambers here, you might want to look again.

The parameters are just different here.

The echo chambers here tend to be related to > surprise, surprise < technical stuff, and things can get pretty heated and occasionally mean. Fortunately there is a lot of self-policing here, but on some topics you might notice excessive downvoting of non-inflammatory opinions that simply run counter to what the herd is thinking.

People might not care about your gender/religion here, but they do focus on other attributes. I've seen people marginalized or dismissed as not being "real programmers" for using a glossy screen, PHP (not so much now, but PHP debates were really bad a few years ago), etc.

On any given day, you'll find some people who think that Microsoft/Google/Facebook/Apple/etc. are crooked and evil and will never change their opinion. On the same note, you'll also find people who think Apple/Tesla/Elon Musk/etc. are infallible.

More recently, if you look at the debates over the whether the new Macbook Pro is "pro enough", you'll see a lot of comments to the effect that "it's [not] like that for me, so it must [not] be true for you/everyone else [either]", which is pretty similar to the bubbles people sit in the non-HN world too.


Don't forget the vicious anti-JS sentiments that get voted to the top in most threads about JS as a language (they seem to not bother stepping into the discussions about particular JS frameworks/projects, mercifully). Being a dev who mostly works with JS, and happens to enjoy it and think it's a fine language, makes me feel like a closeted Trump voter in HN land.

But yea, aside from the tech-centric bubbles and biases, the intellectual climate here is pretty refreshing compared to Reddit, Twitter or FB.


> the intellectual climate here is pretty refreshing compared to Reddit, Twitter or FB

This is what I was trying to say in my original comment. I guess I got a bit too hyperbolic :)


HackerNews happens to share your values and opinions on things like religion and politics. Donald Trump just won the election; did you read the opinions of people here on this happening? And while we may not be pushing a Flat World, there are plenty of conspiracy theories and ignorance on topics (eg. banks), and a fanaticism with regards to a other things (eg. Tesla) . Opposing views on these sorts of topics are smashed with down votes.

My point is, of course it feels comfortable amongst like minded people. But don't extrapolate that to mean this is somehow a special place that's uniquely accepting of all opinions. If you don't believe me, do what the guy in the article did, and play devil's advocate in a few comment threads here.


I've seen a few Trump supporters posting. They weren't popular but in comparison to most other sites I visit opposing views were more tolerated.


We're around, we just keep it under wraps.

HN has a hard liberal slant. There are a lot of bleeding hearts in SV, so not much of a point to bring political views into tech discussions.

I try to avoid any "technical" convos on what people fear may happen when legislation doesn't even exist in the planning phases yet.

Too many irrationally scared people to have those exchanges.


HackerNews happens to share your values and opinions on things like religion and politics.

I don't believe that to be true. Firstly "Hacker News" isn't a coherent whole, and also in any politically charged discussion here there are always diametrically opposing views.


Fair point.

Edit: The Trump thing, from my perspective, seemed to get wrapped up in one post and then people moved on.

I'm with you on the Tesla worship.


I think the Tesla fans are more vocal with their praise.

There are some detractors.

And I think there's a lot of people here who, like myself, don't have much to add to the conversation and keep quite.


>> HackerNews happens to share your values and opinions on things like religion and politics.

There are pretty diverse political views here. I don't know if you remember all the HN discussions on Brendan Eich's political donations a while back, but things got pretty heated on both sides. The for and against arguments pretty much drowned out any opinions in the middle.


Isn't this the other half of the problem? People sitting comfy in their echo chambers.

I'm sure the people on alt-right forums feel the same way about their fellow posters.


Is that fair though? Would you consider a something like a online bee-keeping community or a MUD an 'echo chamber'? I think the phrase gets bandied about a bit too easily nowadays.

Alt-right forums have a specific agenda, the former would have none. I see HN in that regard, but that's just me.


You don't think HN has an agenda? Everyone has an agenda. You just agree with this one.


I don't think it really does to be honest. That's just my personal experience with the site, we're obviously looking through different lenses. I can't agree or disagree with something I'm not aware of.


You can't see the agenda, but is part of it. An "agenda" don't need to be bad to most people outside the inner circle, which is exactly the case of SV and HN. They "just" want to hold the power and who benefits from the prosperity created.


Sure, everyone and every group has a de facto agenda. But the agenda of HN feels to me like "have productive, civil discourse, in a generally pro-technological advancement vein". The agenda of, say, /pol/, is much more directional and polarized (propagating racist and fascist memes, basically, with the broader goal of propagating racism and fascism). There's a much tighter focus and intent to the latter, which makes it feel much more like "an agenda" colloquially, and it seems like a distinction worth noting, rather than eliding it by saying "everyone has an agenda."


To me, both HN and Silicon Valley also propagate racism and fascism. It wasn't yesterday that all news about tech was the lack of diversity? When did Silicon Valley switched place from cause of the problem to be the cure? There is a long road ahead.

> But the agenda of HN feels to me like "have productive, civil discourse, in a generally pro-technological advancement vein"

I agree with this. That is why I'm here. But here we also have a lot of censorship and imposed moral and behavior rules frequently unfair toward some types of discussions or arguments.


An observation on the right is that any organization that is not explicitly right wing will over time drift into being left wing. I think it's correct.


I agree. It's slightly political here, but easily avoided and you rarely see attacks.

I used to enjoy Google+ for the same reasons. The crowd was smarter, geekier and seemed a far cry from the Facebook swamp. Unfortunately in the last 6 months or so G+ has been infiltrated. This place and a few subreddits are all I know of.


Maybe a couple of years ago. Today, I wouldn’t trust the average HN commenter to evaluate even the silliest conspiracy theory. Even back then, it only worked because we aggressively downvoted the nutters and ignored their complaints.


Can you be sure of that? Can anyone? Might you and I not be the same Markov chain generator without even knowing it?


Pop is crap. Always has been, always will be.

We now have a pop Internet. I too was optimistic years ago that it might not become crap, but I think we are just seeing the reality here.


I hope we don't get to the point where it's really just all out information warfare

Make no mistake, it's always been all out information warfare. The difference now is that the new messengers are not high ranking government or business people and the medium is faster and easier to penetrate.

In the past you had to have background, credential and access to get your word into one of the few mediums available, Radio, TV or Print. Now all you need is to make something look good enough and find the right audience.


>Make no mistake, it's always been all out information warfare.

If you look at evolution, it is just a fight over whose genes get passed over to the next generation. Genes are just biological encoding of information. Viruses are almost entirely strands of DNA, that is until they find a host cell to infect their information with. In a way it is all just information warfare.


The focus of genes as the fundamental location of the information of life has been a multi-decade assumption that has not born the fruit it was assumed that the "code" of life would produce. Seeing life through the lens of genetics is as meaningful as judging it against any other arbitrary metric, and leaves out so much that it permits little insight beyond further refinement of the model.

Much like the mistakes made recently by the established political class in over emphasizing the predictive power of their metrics even as the world itself spins further and further away from them.


The tactic was to make money off the gullibility of people during elections and it worked. He's one of the most successful. You can't believe a professional liar who says he did it for the party, when you can also find in the same article that he makes 1000$ per day from it.


I don't believe his narrative for a second. He's in this for the money, period. He peddles lies for a living, and also is lying about "publicly denouncing" anything.


He even said he tried to do with fake news targeting liberals, but it didn't work. If this was ideological, he never would try for an own goal.

Vox even did an article on conspiracies and why they flourish on the right more than the left.[0] Essentially it's low trust, highly engaged people versus lesser engaged people. If you don't trust anything, and you're consuming "knowledge", you're going to latch on to conspiracies.[1]

[0] http://www.vox.com/2015/12/10/9886222/conspiracy-theories-ri... [1] Or at least, that's what they want you to think.[2] [2] FNORD


Let's assume for a moment that "conspiracies flourish on the right" is true. If so, I'd have to say that must only be true in parts of America. I have met lots of people with both right and left wing views outside of the USA (some of whom were also Americans), and didn't see any obvious correlation between political viewpoint and conspiracy theories. If anything I'd say there was a slight left wing slant if we include very generic conspiracy theories like "the banks and big corporations are trying to undermine us all".

If it is true then I would guess the reason is the relative lack of conservative media in America vs say the UK. In the UK if you want to get viewpoints from the extreme left and right just pick up the Guardian and the Express and read both. In the USA it seems harder. Are there any mainstream conservative-leaning newspapers? Whenever I see the term "conservative media" used in America it always means Fox News which is only a TV channel. Breitbart seems to be tapping into that market segment but again, it's not a newspaper.

If you have right wing views and have figured out that there aren't any media outlets that subscribe to your worldview, I can see that this would very easily look like a generic conspiracy and that in turn would breed receptivity to fake right-wing news simply because there are so few places with good reputation where such news is likely to be covered.


My guess is he just picked the wrong topics to target liberals. Put in stuff about big agra, the failures of modern medicine, the wonders of alernative medicine, etc, and you'll make money.

Umm... Hold on while I register a few sites...


This exactly. He's in it purely for money. So Cal is full of shady characters like him...


> publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction

Denounce those stories by making $30k a month as a spammer ? that's how this guy "denounces the alt-right" ? and NPR buys that argument just like that ?


I don't think the NPR passed judgement as to whether it should be bought or not. They are letting us decide.

My value judgement is that this is a terrible way to make money and it is unfortunate blatant lies are not somehow slander, despite it being about a prominent individual. The rolling stone was held liable for their false article about sexual assault. I wish this guy could be as well.

He duped millions of people.


Agreed the whole thing is disgusting, but I'm actually very interested in the last part you said about duping millions of people.

When I heard this story yesterday, I started wondering how many people's views were actually changed by these outlandish stories (the FBI agent found dead with apparent links to the clintons comes to mind). My guess would be that many of those who devoured this sort of story were only confirming their previously held biases about the corruption of the clintons--they just enjoyed having more reasons to hate them. I would also suspect that along the edges of this population, let's say people who are open to either party but have faced economic challenges over the last 10 years, there might be a cumulative effect of reading headlines like this every day on Facebook, even if you don't read the articles and assume they are fake. Something subconscious that holds more weight that a simple opinion post by a friend. Trump himself used a variation on this idea by simply parroting unfounded accusations, fake news headlines, and conspiracy theories to brand Hillary as a criminal. And maybe that effects all of us, to some degree. In an election where 1% swings in a few states could have changed the overall result, these effects may have been very important.

I do think that FB, Google and others have the responsibility to prevent fabricated news stories from spreading like cancers.


> I don't think the NPR passed judgement as to whether it should be bought or not. They are letting us decide.

How about they actually investigate and find out whether he is telling the truth or lying ? This isn't passing judgement , this is actual reporting. So he was lying back then but now he is telling the truth and "journalists" should not pass judgement ?


They did investigate: they're telling us that this guy makes significant money from his activities. Draw your own conclusions.

They don't have to engage in finger-wagging in order to be reporters.


> They did investigate: they're telling us that this guy makes significant money from his activities. Draw your own conclusions.

They failed to debunk what he said.

> They don't have to engage in finger-wagging in order to be reporters.

Oh, now actual reporting is "finger-wagging".


How about they actually investigate and find out whether he is telling the truth or lying?

How? He's making a claim about his motivations, how do you expect them to investigate that?


>He duped millions of people.

Yes and no. I suspect those people would have voted for Trump anyway.

I just got done reading The Righteous Mind (https://www.amazon.com/Righteous-Mind-Divided-Politics-Relig...). After reading it, my default view on all these things: The final outcome is set in their mind, and they are merely looking for any reason to justify it.

(I mean, sure, things are elastic. His articles do play a role - just not that much).


Didn't the election come down to only ~0.1 million votes out of 125 million? Just saying it doesn't take much.


>Didn't the election come down to only ~0.1 million votes out of 125 million? Just saying it doesn't take much.

It doesn't take much either way.

In the key states, if only 1 out of 100 Trump voters went for Hilary, she would have won by a larger margin.

Had she won, we would have been talking about how sanity prevailed, etc.

But the reality is the race was close enough that it doesn't make sense to have a narrative about why either person won. It was close enough that you cannot say this person made a significant difference or not.

If that sounds counterintuitive, think of it this way: List all the reasons you think Hilary failed (and not just external factors - include her own party's shortcomings).

Any one of these being improved could have resulted in a win for her. To single out one entity and blame him is silly. She lost because the race was close and she did not do all she could to win. She didn't lose because one person was spreading fake news.


In all these interviews with fake news makers, I've been amused that people who are obvious experts at telling people what they want to hear are still telling people what they want to hear. And it sails right by the real journalists un-noted.


I hope we don't get to the point where it's really just all out information warfare... and it seems like we're already halfway there.

Those in power have been there for all of our lives. J. Edgar Hoover only died in 1972 and his practice of information warfare was well in place by then. The "halfway" you speak of is in the citizen's awareness that anybody can be ratfucked[1] and that they're going to need to be able to protect themselves. Maybe there should be a 2nd Amendment for data, packets, or internet connections in general.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratfucking


False flag operations. Purposeful provocateurs. Seeing a lot of that lately.

The thing to remember -- and this comes before the time there was a net -- is that the vast majority of people are nice, socially intelligent, and well-meaning.

What the net is doing is convincing us that those in the out-group are simple-minded fools being led around by evil demagogues. That is not the case.

But the net is not doing that because of bad people on the net. The net is doing that because humans are predisposed to consume lots of content that tells them this. The fault is internal to each of us. The net is just automating the ability of content providers to take advantage of it.


> the fake news was created by the left to discredit the alt-right

I would have a hard time taking a guy who's the "godfather of fake news" at his word. Who's to say he isn't making this all up?


I think he is being disingenuous. Maybe he started it as an experiment but it's obviously been all about the Benjamins for a long time (20-25 writers? $10000-30000 a month?).


> I hope we don't get to the point where it's really just all out information warfare

I honestly thing we're headed for full-blown Strossian memetic warfare. The amount of high-level shilling this election cycle (both professional and amateur) was unreal.


I suppose there's the potential for making people cast a more critical eye over outlandish articles that appear to support their own position, if there's a possibility that it might have been created by "the enemy" to discredit them.


But it also creates an environment where you can't ever actually know what any group thinks. "Are there REALLY neo-nazis giving nazi salutes celebrating Trump's victory on video, or is this a staged event to make Trump look like he has neo-nazi supporters?" "Are there even that many well dressed, non-tattoo'd neo-nazis?" (Maybe there are... I don't know any personally, but I wasn't expecting to see people in button down shirts and khakis and clean looking... apologies to any neo-nazis that may be reading this for having a pre-formed impression of what you might be like.)

And what happens when a group comes along that REALLY DOES have absolutely crazy views? "Oh well, that was discredited, but that group doesn't ACTUALLY believe the (minority group here) are the cause of all our problems. That's just some fake news designed to discredit them. I like some of the less crazy articles by these guys. I think I'll still vote for the (actually batshit crazy neo-nazi party by another name of 2032)."


Although the medium is new the idea of publishing stuff that misrepresents other people's position is nothing new. Here is a relatively modern example from the very early 20th century https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protocols_of_the_Elders_of...

And although the term has a very tinfoil hat connotation "false flag operations" have also been a thing for millennia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_flag Even young children understand the logic of "I will do a thing and try to make it look like someone else did it."

>But it also creates an environment where you can't ever actually know what any group thinks.

You never could really. At best you could get a vague approximation that was hopefully not inaccurate in any way that would bite you in the ass.


I seem to recall news video of Muslims firing guns into the air and celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center actually being video of Muslims celebrating a sporting match victory, about 15 years ago.


Your second idea is actually aleready used by the French far righ supporters. They manage to say horrible things and get away by saying it's just humor and that people who infuriate just don't get it.

And as French people have a very high proudness of their free speech policy, it's then very hard to oppose without being called a vile censorship supporter...


And the more general tactic was used very well by Trump during the campaign. For example when he claimed to be being "sarcastic" when he said Clinton and Obama "founded" ISIS.

I found most fascinating - in a horrible way - the exchange he had with a conservative radio host (http://www.hughhewitt.com/donald-trump-makes-return-visit/):

HH: I’ve got two more questions. Last night, you said the President was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

DT: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.

HH: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.

DT: I don’t care. He was the founder.

... [later]

DT: If he would have done things properly, you wouldn’t have had ISIS.

The problem here is that he's saying a) Obama IS the founder of ISIS, and b) Obama created the conditions for their rise. One of these is reasonable (in the sense that it can be discussed) and one is clearly nonsense.

Which means that he can claim to his supporters one thing - the crazy one - and then defend himself against critics by pointing to the saner version and cry 'sarcasm!'. It's like the phrase "talking out of both sides of your mouth" but at the same time.


Well, it's not so crazy in the context or our continuing Iraq policy/war.

I'd blame George Bush moreso for removing bathist military folks from their jobs and banning them from government....the long term ramifications of that were insane.


I'm not sure this particular example fits the "sarcastic" angle. I believe a more charitable interpretation is possible:

> HH: I’ve got two more questions. Last night, you said the President was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

You could infer from this that HH is trying to limit the President's culpability - a difference of "happened on my watch" vs "I am directly responsible".

> DT: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps DT's objection is over the implication from HH's statement, rather than to be taken literally. He goes on to temper his statement - the President had a "very important role", etc. Outside of this context, DT's objection is not very coherent, but that's the nature of a (presumably) unscripted, antagonistic interview. Case in point, HH blunders in their retort:

> HH: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.

This objection is moving the goalposts. You can be a founder of something and hate it - the founder can be displaced, the "something" can change course, etc. You can tell HH is reading into what DT is saying - HH seems to think that DT is pushing a "the President is an ISIS sympathizer" narrative, which isn't at all indicated by DT's words, and he immediately disagrees:

> DT: I don’t care. He was the founder.

In thinking about this interview and how I just overanalyzed it, I reached a frustrating impasse. It would certainly be great if DT had the eloquence of Obama, and his statements were well-crafted and not so open to interpretation. On the other hand, relying too much on the eloquence of politicians leads you into a hole of "empty talk" - they say a lot of words, take no positions and after analyzing their response you realize it lacks any substance.

DT does not conform to the standard mold of a politician, so I think it's difficult to try and analyze him through it. He will eventually become President, and be forced to make decisions - actions are much easier to evaluate than words.


> I'm not sure this particular example fits the "sarcastic" angle

Ok, but Trump disagrees with you: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/12/donald-trump...

> Perhaps DT's objection is over the implication from HH's statement, rather than to be taken literally

Perhaps all sorts of things. That's the problem - throughout the campaign all sorts of Trump surrogates found themselves saying "What he actually meant was...".

> It would certainly be great if DT had the eloquence of Obama, and his statements were well-crafted and not so open to interpretation

It's totally fair to be suspicious of well-crafted statements of career politicians and prefer the "honest simple speech" of outsiders. I'm not sure that's a good description of the way that Trump talks, however.

It's impossible to prove, but I believe that he deliberately speaks ambiguously to serve his own purposes - which is the opposite of honest speech.

> He will eventually become President, and be forced to make decisions - actions are much easier to evaluate than words.

This is very true. And who knows, he might do great things - I'm not hopeful, though.


We're already in that environment, it just doesn't get much coverage because it doesn't fit the mainstream narrative: http://reason.com/blog/2016/11/18/election-hate-crimes-hoaxe...


Doubt in those stories should better be based on the part where it is just another get-rich-quickly scheme. Otherwise you end up stacking conspiracy on top of conspiracy, which at the end of the day leaves you even more vulnerable to fake news.


> So in this case, the fake news was created by the left to discredit the alt-right, rather than by the alt-right to promote their views.

And so after the gullible rubes swallowed his bit of fake news hook line and sinker, he ran to tell the world.


More like after he got caught, he felt the need to spin.


I'm not into making fake news but I might have found another bait: "YOU WON'T BELIEVE THIS! Progressives (lefties, or what you Americans call them) are behind fake news industry to spread lies and discredit conservatives!"

All in all, it's an interesting bait and valuable lesson. Who knew you could make so much money like that? I guess now the train is gone and it might hit very hard a lot of blogs/new newspapers who try to get into the industry for being fake.

Your AdSense account's value is getting higher, folks!


> So in this case, the fake news was created by the left to discredit the alt-right, rather than by the alt-right to promote their views.

See also: the complete HRC campaign.


What boggles my mind is that Facebook and Twitter are so very complicit by creating platforms for very granular targeting.

You liked the Green Bay Packers, a gun owners group, an old 2008 Tea Party video, live 60 miles outside of a city and between 40-65? Not only is that profile there, Facebook ads will tell you almost exactly how large your reach is.

This is nothing more than information arbitrage, and that the unit economics from advertisers hasn't quite caught up yet. It's what allowed Buzzfeed to exist in the first place, and ultra targeted startups like Teespring to grow, by training a small part of the crowd to become content creators. Moreover, traditional content creators like NYTimes don't even understand how much they are being undercut cents-to-words.

You work out the funnel conversion, hope for some organic spread, and just pump things out. In a few years, this whole thing could be automated and AI generated to sway elections and public opinions. All you need is a training dataset for the targeted population's underlying views and beliefs.

Imagine a startup trying to do this at scale, growing 10% week over week or something insane. At this point it's basically going to match the velocity of information across online networks of people.

If this becomes a positive feedback loop where readers start to accelerate the spread after becoming radicalized - this becomes a social virus.


"In any case, we can’t pretend that engineers are not legislators of public discourse anymore."

https://medium.com/initialized-capital/fascism-and-the-histo...


> "In any case, we can’t pretend that engineers are not legislators of public discourse anymore."

Legislation is a rather complex sport that requires deep understanding of repercussions.

I've seen rather skilled blockchain hackers talking economics, finance, politics and monetary policy. Their understanding of the current system (in terms of structure) was appalling. One needs to know the role of central banks before bashing them.

I am afraid that your average engineer will make a pretty incompetent legislator. So let's leave legislation to legislators... :-)


> I am afraid that your average engineer will make a pretty incompetent legislator. So let's leave legislation to legislators... :-)

I disagree. Aside from a few highly political engineers and/or software devs, almost all engineers I know insist on actually looking at the facts and evaluating them to the best of their ability, regardless of their political inclinations. This is a very rare characteristic in our society, and I can't help but to believe it's a very virtuous trait to have for a legislator.

Most engineers also aren't inflicted with the lust for power and status like so many (most?) attorneys I know.

Most engineers also have a pretty rare ability to listen to and to accept criticism. That's not always something legislators can boast of.

I think we need more scientists, engineers, software professionals, etc. in our political system, not less.

Also, what exact lack of understanding in terms of "structure" of the current system did you find appalling in those blockchain hackers? Can you be more specific?


that's a techocracy.... unfortunately, many modern horrible regimes are techocracies since engineering/science majors are the norm outside the west.

Communist governments were super big on STEM and still implemented the same horseshit policies and woo woo beliefs.

>Most engineers also aren't inflicted with the lust for power and status like so many (most?) attorneys I know.

In the west, engineering doesn't attract those types. In other countries where its the quickest way to make buck? Hell yeah!

>I think we need more scientists, engineers, software professionals, etc. in our political system, not less

I think we need a bigger guild like organization with a lobby. Not some industry sponsored group either.


> In the west, engineering doesn't attract those types. In other countries where its the quickest way to make buck? Hell yeah!

This is an excellent counterpoint. You're totally right that in many countries (former communist countries, particularly, as you say), STEM educated elites often were the top officials.

However, it doesn't detract from my point that in this country, we would benefit from more scientists and engineers in government.

> I think we need a bigger guild like organization with a lobby. Not some industry sponsored group either.

This may help us with professional issues, but it likely won't help our system of government.


Take this as a warning - I think your idea is too late.

I've been watching the various attempts at improving education in America and it smells Exactly like what india/china have.

There's many details but broadly there's 1 major forces that shape this

economics-jobs

1) as normal jobs dry up/stop paying a good wage, it puts a downward pressure on education in things like politics/English/arts/philosophy and so on. This means people shift to the only hope left - STEM

Talking to people on forums from America who were exposed to multiple streams (and not just STEM) I can say you guys have historically enjoyed a deep insulation/resilience to stupid ideas/half baked ideas. Because you had people with diverse information, you could always stop a neophyte engineer from executing a shortest path solution with costs not apparent to engineers.

Once you have no jobs left for those people, parents will force their kids into the only options left.

This saturates the system with posers - people who pretend to like engineering but would rather be psychologists, painters, marketers or any non technical job.

This overloads and blows the fuses in the higher education application process, which forces them to adapt by adding more criteria and stricter criteria to get in.

The kinds of engineers you produce tomorrow are going to be unconcerned with being engineers. They are engineers to finish their first job stint and get an MBA.

Ethics become a word and a course you waste your time on, because if ethics mattered you wouldn't be an engineer in the first place.

Any system proposed needs to build with this in mind. I think simply making it useful to have multi discipline knowledge will be a way to maintain Your cultural resistance.

Sorry if I'm rambling


Your 100% right.

Although admittedly in america, our lack of stem focus partially comes from the cult of money. Brilliant would be scientists and inventors are financially pushed towards the business, law, & finance fields.

It helps keep keep engineering well paid which is nice....but I suspect we've could have advanced much further if half the traders and quants on Wall Street were in an innovation oriented field.

Reminds me of a guy from a top comp science program getting paid to be basically a secretary in a finance firm.


I was thinking an advisory lobby like the AMA. Some respected organization that can issue statements others can point to as sane beliefs back by many in the industry.


>>Most engineers also aren't inflicted with the lust for power and status like so many (most?) attorneys I know.

And they won't be, until they get a taste for them.

The saying "power corrupts" exists for a reason, because it's true. Very few people in history have been able to resist the temptations that come with it and stay true to their principles.


> Most engineers also aren't inflicted with the lust for power and status like so many (most?) attorneys I know.

You haven't had enough to know what it's like...


> Also, what exact lack of understanding in terms of "structure" of the current system did you find appalling in those blockchain hackers? Can you be more specific?

- How currencies are created by a population or state?

- How currencies are adopted/enforced to/by a population or state?

- What is the role of a central bank in a modern economy?

- How if the "Chair of the FED" appointed?

- What is the inflation rate?

- Why does a central bank get to decide the inflation rate?

- Why exchange currencies (e.g. USD, EUR, etc) are inflationary?

- What is democracy? (by extension is it in the best interest of a democracy having a CB-backed currency or a virtual currency?)

- Can a player with vast amounts of shares/bitcoins/USDs fix the price of the stock/share/btc?

- Can money be a-political?

> I think we need more scientists, engineers, software professionals, etc. in our political system, not less.

Two examples of technocratic governance are (A) Greece and (B) Economics/Finance:

(A) In 2015 Greece has been turned officially into a colony[1]. In essence it's been a colony since 2010. All major political decisions are taken from a technocratic board. Basically the Greek govenrment acts as the executive branch. The legislative power been delegrated to a supranational authority, which 60% of Greeks rejected btw. The technocratic board, known as 'Troika', has done mistakes[2]. While the IMF will issue a sorry we made a few mistakes statement and go home, people in Greece have to live with the consequences for the years to come. No Greek politician is capable of inflicting such MASSIVE amount of pain to an economy without getting a glimpse of hope in return, none. Only a technocrat can do that. Of course technocrats (much like neo-liberals or communists) will say that you're not technocratic enough, but this simply doesn't hold water: there's theory and practice. Practice shows that they've screw up massively, so massively that by the time they end-up with Greece, Greece may very well have been turned into a military-state of the worst kind.

(B) Currently finance relies on non-realistic financial models, to justify toxic asset risk dispersion/assessment. This dominance of mathematics in Economics (The queen of social sciences) has been going strong for the last 40 years or so. The problem is not that top university educated economists are not good with formulas. Some of those guys make rounds around your average engineer. The problem is that in order to explain social reality through a mathematical model they start accepting generilizations which are simply NOT true.

So in the end of the day, you have a mathematical model which is out of touch with reality and 2008 happens, Trump happens, Brexit happens... All these things happened because of the mathematicalisation of economics.

I think post-2008 it's really hard to argue replacing social sciences (and I believe legislation is a very social science, economics too) with technocratic counterparts. Everyone should have a say, but the final decision on social matters, should rest with social sciences.

[1]: https://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/08/17/greeces-third-mou-memo...

[2]: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-04-21/imf-needs...


> I am afraid that your average engineer will make a pretty incompetent legislator.

Sadly, so does your average legislator.


> I am afraid that your average engineer will make a pretty incompetent legislator. So let's leave legislation to legislators... :-)

We can no longer separate legislation from engineering. We need a way to get people who are good at both, whether that's training engineers as legislators, training legislators as engineers, or something else.


Are the construction workers legislators of the road? Are actors the legislators of TV? Engineers do not own their efforts, and nor do construction workers or actors.


>So, if you start thinking down that line, if someone threatened murder, you’d probably take that off the platform. If someone threatened assault, you’d take that off. But if a presidential candidate threatens to imprison an entire religious minority[...]

It's easy to see what he's referring to here, and thus, he demonstrates that he's captured by fake news as well, and doesn't even recognize it. Half-truths or intentional misreading of things Trump has said are bread and butter of the left wing's fake news organizations.

As a side note, he succinctly explains with what is wrong with a coincident push by the same people, banning of certain viewpoints off Twitter. Oh well it's a private company, and they can run it how they want! Your free speech is not being violated. But as he just admits, these private entities are extremely powerful brokers of speech, and what they decide stays and goes has a very large impact on society. But, consistency is not the strong suit of these people. It is entirely whatever argument works at the time.


Google beat them to it. Ad words is insane.... wanna target by individual town?

Yes you can and more


Facebook allows you to target by city too. In fact, several individuals have used Facebook to display ads to just one person. See this account, for instance:

http://ghostinfluence.com/the-ultimate-retaliation-pranking-...


That's insane. With de-anonymised data and some sort of personalisation engine a single person could change the results of an entire election that way!


Ad words aside, Google News is incredibly bad at aggregating fake news/farmed content into their real news feeds.

For a lot of the news categories Google thinks or knows I like, I get tons of headlines from questionable news sources, and the last time I looked, their preferences wouldn't let me blacklist repeat offenders from showing up in my main headlines feed.


You can excise sites one by one, though it's a bit clunky. If you're logged in, click "Personalize" at the top-right, then type in the publication's name under "Adjust Sources", click + (if it's found) to add it to your customized sources list, then drag the frequency slider for that source all the way to the left. I'm not sure if this precisely blocks it, but it should mostly get it out of your Google News feed.


Thanks, this is useful. The last time I tried editing my preferences was within the Android News & Headlines app. Turns out I should have just done it in a web browser. You are right though, it is clunky.


Not sure about that. For the last week or so I've been bombarded with Porsche ads in the YT videos I'm listening even though I will never have that much money in order to buy a new Porsche vehicle.


> even though I will never have that much money in order to buy a new Porsche vehicle

You're not meant to buy it. You're meant to be envious of it. The target market is purchasing your envy. See Veblen's _Theory of the Leisure Class_.


You probably viewed some Porsche stuff or did a search.


I sure did, as I looked at countless other car-related videos, just found it interesting that the system behind the Google ads couldn't "guess" that I don't really have the money to buy a Porsche (for starters I fly low-cost, which Google knows). But as the other commenter says, maybe I'm not meant to buy it, just to be envious of it, which I most certainly am.


Porsche probably pays more for ads due to much higher profit margins per each sale (way higher than Japanese cars). 1 Porsche buy might be worth 5 camera buyers in terms ofor profit.

DUI lawyers make bank on each DUI case (5k-20k+) so the price per click averages near $50!!!!!


I've worried about exactly what you've described for years... to the point of wondering if "virtual reality" (broadly defined) might not be a great filter (Fermi paradox sense).

What we are doing here is creating a collective fantasy world where the opportunity to steer the fantasy is traded on an open market. Now you get feedback loops and the whole thing spirals out into a kind of collective psychotic episode.

If it goes far enough we end up with substantial parts of our population living in pure fantasy worlds... and making decisions that unfortunately affect the real one.


> this whole thing could be automated and AI generated to sway elections and public opinions

But perhaps then AI could also be used to reveal such practices and shut them down.


I was about to comment on this and your take makes my point obsolete. Specifically I'd argue that this:

All you need is a training dataset for the targeted population's underlying views and beliefs.

is not as easy as it looks.


> This is nothing more than information arbitrage, and that the unit economics from advertisers hasn't quite caught up yet.It's what allowed Buzzfeed to exist in the first place

Would you mind expanding on the Buzzfeed part a little? I don't really understand.


He is doing the same thing to NPR, and by extension NPR's listeners, what he was doing to low-info right-wingers: telling them what they wanted to hear, whether or not it's true. He's good at it.

He wants you to believe that he tried, but he just couldn't get the left wing to fall for it. But anybody who has used Facebook as seen how popular AddictingInfo-org is, and it is an overtly left wing fake news site. It's not remotely the only one.

The fake news reporting is itself filled with fake news. And it's easy to find marks because after the election, many people need to find a scapegoat so they are turning off their critical faculties. The current complaining about fake news is a mirror image of the right's disrespect of the "mainstream" media. For instance all the reporting on the Trump-Russia covert email server communication matches the formula for fake news, it took a nugget of truth, twisted it, and tried to ride the lie long enough that by the time it was exposed as nothing, the election would be over and the "damage" done. But it wasn't fake news I guess because the outlet has to be small and the target and victim were reversed. Anybody looking at that should reasonably be upset about "fake news" but it's categorically ignored by the left. You are not inhumanly wise and immune to the effects of incentivized bias.


> "The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction," Coler says.

Listening to the audio of the interview, I couldn't help but hear him say the above with a sneer. He claims to be a registered Democrat, maybe it's true, but since this is how he makes his living, he clearly doesn't give a fuck in either direction. It's something I detect from a fairly large portion of supposed alt-righters online: they don't actually believe that the racism and fascism they're espousing is righteous or good for them/humanity, but they just don't give a fuck. Years of living with their main source of socialization coming via disembodied interactions in the ether of memes, cynicism, shock material, etc of 4chan and reddit has driven many to a deep and true nihilism. This guy is the one eyed king troll in the land of the emotionally blind.


My guess is that part of the focus on fake news is a bit of deflection. The media hyperfocused on the Comey story in the week leading up to the election, and in the end that turned out to be nothing at all. Instead of looking at the issues in their own reporting, they're spending all the time talking about fake news (which is still an issue, however).


Fascinating. I'm not sure I buy the left isn't just as gullible as the right. Or at least not without more proof?

I suspect you'd need a right leaning person with a similar background writing left bait fake news to have the same impact though. Write fake news about charter schools doing something bad (charter school puts LGBT students in detention) or fake churches doing bad (church in Idaho found funneling funds to Trump campaign) or fake doctors doing something the left would find atrocious but believable (medical clinic in Utah refuses to help unwed pregnant teens unless they agree to marry)

I say that because I know lots of traditionally left leaning people who believe all kinds of unscientific stuff with the same fervor as the "religious right". Auras, Rieki, Astrology, Homeopathy, Chakra, etc...


It seems to me that during this election the right got tangled up in many more fake news stories than the left.

One factor is probably that the majority of newspapers (both left and right leaning) endorsed Hillary. If you wanted news that confirmed your decision to vote for Trump, you turned to alternative "news" media. Those were more likely to run fake news.

Another factor is that Trump was actively encouraging his supporters to reject traditional media and was promoting conspiracy theories himself.


I think in general yes, absolutely true. Everyone across the political spectrum is just as susceptible. However, in this election, people on the left didn't need to look any further than the candidate's own words to get the rage high they were seeking. For the right though, I mean sure, you have mishandling of emails and a charitable foundation, but even with years investigation and even publicly leaked emails there wasn't a whole lot of fire, just a bunch of smoke.


Actually I'd make the argument that given the propensity for major media outlets to be strongly left-biased, there were plenty of real stories to inflame the left. While those same outlets were actually promoting an unproven talking point that Clinton emails were hacked/released by the Russians. Hillary Clinton claimed that to be true, so that became the narrative, even though that news was "fake." There has been, in fact no proof that the Russians did anything -- only that the techniques uses were similar to ones the Russians have used. [1] Yet, we're still hearing stories that the Russians "hacked" the DNC and Clinton.

In fact, the media was casting doubt on the authenticity of the leaked documents. MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle, dutifully informed viewers that the transcripts "haven't been authenticated." (When referring to a leaked Goldman Sachs speech.)

Clinton said in front of the 66 million TV viewers of the second presidential debate, "The Russian government [is] directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election and WikiLeaks is part of that.."

The emails were either hacked or they're not real. Nobody has ever complained about their fake emails being hacked.

Outlets spent more time talking about how despicable the Russians were yet ignoring, for the most part the content of those emails. For example, one of those emails was Clinton campaign chair talking about "Needy latinos." Not a single word printed in the Times, the Washington Post or any mainstream media outlet. However, Trump says something 20 years ago and it becomes front-page news for literally a week. Given that one of the themes of this election was "racism" -- the characterization of the two people to which Podesta was referring would be considered relevant considering claims of racism were being made against Trump.

However, imagine if a "reputable" news organization dug into the Clinton Foundation's apparent irregularities with the gusto with which they covered Trump's purported sexual harassment.

For example, The Daily Beast published a story in October called "All of Donald Trump's Accusers: A Timeline of Every Alleged Grope."[2] Now to their credit, they did use the word "alleged," however, if you look at their coverage of the Clinton Foundation, they were almost apologetic. For example, "Hey Hillary, It's Past Time to Shut Down the Clinton Foundation. It does great work. But in political terms, it's an albatross."[3]

The writer then goes on to complain about how Judicial Watch is scrutinizing the Foundation. The entire point of that piece and those similar is that the Clinton's should shut down the foundation because it's red meat for right-wing investigation and thus politically unhelpful. Not a single word about the allegation of pay-to-play or any number of ethical issues (such as the Foundation paying for Chelsea's wedding.[4].) Interesting that only Fox and the NYPost reported this, despite this being hugely unethical and probably illegal and germane to the question of Hillary Clinton's trustworthiness and ethics as well as interesting to the IRS as well as donors who ostensibly are donating to charity. Jenna Bush drinking underage in Austin during the Bush administration got more coverage on CNN than what approaches embezzlement by Chelsea Clinton.[5]

The purpose of this comment is to point out that those on the right who are typically targeted by fake news are so gullible to it because there is a large percentage of stories in the mainstream media that are anti-conservative yet there ARE substantial stories that the media either ignores or glosses over when it comes to the left. Chelsea Clinton potentially embezzling millions of charitable contributions is a huge story that at least warrants investigation. Sanders supporting DNC activist Seth Rich gets murdered, the media calls it a robbery despite nothing being taken, yet no enterprising reporter seems interested in digging any deeper?[6]

What that means is that there is a market demand for more information about the stories that are hinted at but aren't fully reported. The left, on the other hand has plenty of well-reported anti-right news to read with mainstream outlets, thus their appetite for information is mostly satisfied.

[1] http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/441266/hillary-clinton-... [2] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/12/all-of-dona... [3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/23/hey-hillary... [4] http://nypost.com/2016/11/06/chelsea-clinton-used-foundation... [5] http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/04/27/bush.daughter/ [6] https://www.reddit.com/r/conspiracy/comments/4sejv7/the_deat...


Hi, thanks so much for a reasoned and intelligent response. It's very hard sometimes to see the point of view of the other side so I really appreciate the time you spent here.

As far as emails go, you can check out politifact for the sources that have been used to say that the Russians were involved:

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/oct/...

It is a fact that that is the statement for Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as well as many other agencies (17, which you can see listed). I'm noticing here you have left off the beginning of the quote, without putting a […]. The beginning of the quote is "Our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the". While Hillary has lied in the debates and has been called out for it, there is no doubt that the above is a truthful statement, that is the position of the US intelligence community.

And yes, claiming that oh, maybe they aren't real is a bit disingenuous. Of course some fake stuff could be slipped in, but given the lack of major revelations within the emails, it seems pretty doubtful. On the other side of the coin, your story here is that there was so much dirt in the emails and the foundation, etc, but it wasn't widely reported, so the right resorted to fake news instead? That makes zero sense to me. If there is dirt that the media failed to report, why bother making up fake news?

Reading into your links, I can see why people resorted to fake news. Take the Clinton Foundation paying for weddings, living expenses, etc. The WikiLeaks email discusses an investigation of a alleged wrongdoing, not a wrongdoing itself. I'm sure there are Trump campaign emails where they discuss the alleged rape of a 13 year old. Would you think such emails are proof? No, of course not, it makes perfect sense for them to discuss the allegations and (then) pending trial. In the case of the Clinton Foundation, the discussion of allegations was 4 years ago. Did something come of the allegation? I haven't seen anything. The reason it wasn't reported is that it's a non-story. You can actually go and read the financial reports of the Clinton Foundation (something you cannot do of the Trump foundation incidentally).

The other big issue here is that fake news has not only been enormously popular on the right this election cycle, it has been leveraged by the campaign, including Trump (such as the "Blumenthal" quote) and his children. Donald Jr being particularly susceptible to retweeting fake news.

http://www.politicususa.com/2016/08/30/donald-trump-jr-falls...


I think the left tends not to fall so much for political stories, but put in stuff about evils of big agra, big pharma, fake studies showing alternative medications working well, etc and they'll lap it up.


Fascinating. I'm not sure I buy the left isn't just as gullible as the right. Or at least not without more proof?

Not proof, but an interesting analogy: The relative success of right- and left-wing talk radio. Right wing talk radio is a huge industry, left-wing is practically nonexistent. Maybe it points to an asymmetry in how left- and right-wingers consume information. Granted, it could also be related to other factors such as having spare time for listening to talk radio, or having a job that doesn't require much concentration.


I don't think that's correct. My mother is someone who watches left-wing biased news (MSNBC) all day, for example. And while I wouldn't call NPR specifically left-wing, they have a heavy establishment bias, and were running anti-Trump stuff continually through the election. Plus, there is a whole media establishment out there preaching to the far left (Democracy Now, "hippie" radio, etc.)


I'm thinking in terms of the magnitude of commercial success. As a counter-anecdote, I live in a liberal enclave -- Madison Wisconsin -- and there is a successful radio station with continuous right wing talk for several hours running. They have Limbaugh book-ended with other right wing shows, national and local. In contrast, attempts at finding a similar market for liberal talk have failed. One station that made a go of it in my locale just gave up and switched to a music format.

And the quality was just never there. While I have no use for Limbaugh, I respect that he delivers a quality product to his audience. In contrast, the liberal shows just seemed half-assed.

I'm pretty far to the left, but outrage propaganda turns me off. I also just don't react to the news in a tight feedback loop. I'm open minded, but being open minded means come back in a decade and see if my opinions have changed.


Surely the left wing equivalent of talk radio is the newspapers?


Well, I suppose if you think that newspapers are the left wing equivalent of anything. I cancelled the Chicago Tribune when they endorsed George Bush, and my neighbor thinks the NY Times is right-wing. ;-)

But still, if one assumes that the left gets information from newspapers and the right from talk-radio, it would support my thesis that there are left-right differences in consumption of information, making it plausible that there are also left-right differences in the consumption of fake news. There's en entire industry (advertising) devoted to exploiting measurable differences in how identifiable groups of people process information.


the bullshit stories on the left tend to be about some evil corporation(monsanto) pushing bad things to you for $$$, environmental, or someone being oppressed.

I think since they target a more educated consumer, they go more upscale than sensationalist yellow journalism.


I guess a lot of people don't know the type, judging by the accusations that his "this was to troll the alt-right" was a lie.

Seems obvious to me, he started with that intent, thought that obviously the stories would be discredited and the people who bought it would be shamed.

It sometimes happens to organizations that promote an Onion article as real. It does a lot of damage to their reputations.

Then that didn't happen and he made a lot of money. He was disgusted by how stupid everyone is, liked the money and justified it to himself that he's conning money from gullible rubes who are bad people.

I don't know this guy, but I know more than one person just like him.


The first "fake news" I remember seeing was about a year ago, and it was completely apolitical - it was a made-up story about a multiple-fatality car crash in my city. When I investigated the source, it had several exact copies of the same article, just set in different cities around the world.

At the time I was completely bewildered as to the motive behind this, but I can only assume that it's the ad money, as paltry as that would seem. Coler's protestations notwithstanding.


I was tricked by KNP7.com. If you search "Eminem moves to {city name}" the exact same article appears for multiple cities including Seattle, New York and probably dozens of other cities.


Taylor Swift, Miley, and the Biebs himself also moved to my hometown.


That's how you increase click rates using geoIP databases.


Traditional fake news, tabloids, was based on a different market, but it's the same premise: generating ad revenue. Eyes are dollars, if you can attract eyes then you can earn dollars, the only limits are your ethical boundaries and creativity. Yet another reason why ad supported media is an extremely problematic situation.


I think (all) the ad networks are the grandfathers of fake news. Maybe it's not news, but with "native advertising" the trend to forward folks to a blog post about this AMAZING PRODUCT instead of shopping cart started. I blame Taboola!


In that case it's likely a script generating these to catch people in google searches. "Fake news" for sure, but not politically motivated.


I've seen the big networks doing this as well. All very strange. Seems to be leading up to something.


This is utterly offensive and this man is utterly corrupt. He claims to be doing this to discredit his foes, but there's no evidence that he's done any of the "public denouncing" which he gives as his justification for polluting the public sphere with his lies. He does however admit to coining it to the tune of six figures.

If we've learned anything from the twentieth century its that corrupting the public discourse like this can lead to the slaughter of millions and the downfall of whole societies. This man and those like him deserve harsh punishment.

There's a similar interview here, with another left-winger who claims to be making "satire" and is more outwardly racked with guilt than this man, but who is also still cashing the adsense checks:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/11...


It almost sounds as if you believe that silencing these fake news will stop people from believing fake news. I don't think so.

Also, slaughtering millions in the 20th century was usually the job of a big government in a big country and I have difficulty recalling that "fake news believers" or any kind of people actually voted for a war or went on the streets in favor of a war.

And practically always before and during these wars the governments regularly shouted "fake news" on everything that didn't fit their narrative.


I'm not talking about wars - I'm talking about the holocaust and the deaths from internal repression in the soviet union and maoist china. One of the preconditions for such things to take place is the corruption of truth in the public discourse.

I'm sorry if this seems like exaggeration or scaremongering but I find these stories terrifying far beyond the election of donald trump.

>the governments regularly shouted "fake news"

This is another aspect of what I'm talking about. Once you break the good faith assumption of truth speaking in the public sphere, it becomes a vicious cycle as nobody is incentivised to speak truthfully.

Of course the press has always been used to manipulate the public, but this seems categorically different. The people who are writing these stories are shamelessly fabricating them, as opposed to uncritically republishing information fed to them by authority figures. This breaks down interpersonal trust in society in a way that simply pushing the government line doesn't.


I think it all three cases one problem was the lack of news. News agencies were shut down unless they "cooperated".

Therefore having a wide spectrum of media is IMO desirable, even if it means fake news. The problem starts when the state regulates the media because that's when having only one (government friendly) source of information starts.

Finally, I think, the problem is not the liars but the acting believers. If you fall for such a lie, fine you are entitled to think whatever you want. However, if you act on it (by threatening or committing violence), then you become a criminal. But that part is already covered by current legislation.


>Finally, I think, the problem is not the liars but the acting believers. If you fall for such a lie, fine you are entitled to think whatever you want. However, if you act on it (by threatening or committing violence), then you become a criminal. But that part is already covered by current legislation.

It doesn't matter who the problem is, it only matters how to solve it. Claiming the mainstream media is lying ("lying press"/"Lügenpresse") and sowing distrust in traditional sources of truth was one of the tactics that helped Hitler rise to power. I don't know how to prevent this tactic, but the current approach of letting people just blatantly make shit up and push it as truth isn't working very well. It's very possible that it's the least bad approach, but we should at least consider the alternatives before concluding.


Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments show us that "ordinary good people" are the ones who turn into monsters if you give them the right incentives/conditions.

What was one of major factors in bringing down the Soviet Union - was information campaign of which Radio Free Europe was a major part. While, indeed their policy was dissemination of truth. Undoubtedly it would have been seen as "fake news" by the Soviets.

While I have no idea what is the solution to this problem, I am pretty sure that censorship is the worst thing we can do.

Also consider - that the main stream media conglomerates have recently justified "fake news" sources by doing a horrendous job themselves.


I wish people would stop touting the Stanford experiment as some sort of truism. It was a deeply flawed experiment that didn't observe proper scientific principles and the conclusions were largely subjective and anecdotal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment#Cri...


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_T%C3%A9l%C3%A9vision_Lib...

The Rwandan genocide was in many ways a grass roots movement - Most of the killing was perpetrated by normal everyday people using farm implements and the like. It was also incredibly efficient. 800,000 people killed in just 6 weeks - more efficient than the Nazi Holocaust. A big reason for that was the unfiltered radio, spouting hate speech and misinformation, rousing ordinary people and priming them to commit extraordinary, unspeakable acts.


How would government censorship and regulation help with the Rwandan genocide?

Or would the censorship actually help the perpetrators? I.e. by shutting down "fake news" reporting about the ongoing genocide?


While I'm sure he probably stuck to it for the money, I, for one, am thankful for his work.

I used to be a news junkie. The amount of junk I would see from proper news organizations was eye-opening. Sure - not at his level - much more subtle.

When there is not enough skepticism, people like him are a guaranteed outcome. By taking things to the extreme, he did expose how flawed our approach to the news is, and how little standards we have for journalism.

To be honest, if people become skeptical of most news media because of him, that's actually a good thing.


I think he straight up lied, or "rused" as I think they call it, the journalist. I mean, the line >>>Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait.<<< is as blatant winking and nudging as it can get without spelling it out. In other words "Liberals never take the bait", he told to a liberal as he was taking the bait.


Either that, or they're not very good at writing fake stories for liberals. They might have different triggers that he's unable to find.


> At any given time, Coler says, he has between 20 and 25 writers

Ha! He's hired some shady SEO company to write those. You can buy "spun" articles by the hundreds from black hat forums. I wouldn't be surprised if they were actually written by some poor Indian. No way can he pay 25 writers with $20-30K/month. It's just a get rich quick scheme, a spammer, but one that destroys a lot of public value in order to profit a little.


Fiverr. You can buy a huge amount of unique ("unspun") articles with $20k-$30k month.

Maybe he spins them too, but getting huge amount of unique content cheaply is trivial if you don't care much about the quality.


HN has a hide button. Click it and something's gone, no questions asked. That should be the standard.

FB has some hide buttons. Click it and up pops a menu. Click Hide Ad. Up pops a dialog asking Why don't you want to see this? Choose It's not relevant to me. This is followed by a Thanks dialog. And after it's hidden, it's not hidden. There's a grey box saying and asking You won't see ads like it. Undo?

FB also doesn't have some hide buttons. For suggested pages, I was getting a completely offensive German page. There was not way to hide it. And it showed up regularly. To be clear, I don't speak German and I really wasn't interested in what the page was purveying.

Their iPhone app is even worse.

If there's anyone from Facebook reading this, y'all are idiots.

Google News is pretty much the same. Frankly, everyone is pretty much the same.

I should be able to click hide or left swipe and it's gone. And no, I don't want to answer a quick five minute customer support questionnaire. Y'all don't like Ad Blockers? Well, I don't like not being in control of what's in my face.


Problem is, when every fake news story comes from a new fake news website, clicking hide doesn't help for the future.


I can't dictate what FB does with my hide clicks since I don't really have them right now. Literally it takes 30s to fight through their helpful screens.

But they should use hide clicks to determine whether to show that entry to others. I can imagine there are sophisticated ways of doing that. But it starts with that vote and right now FB, Google, basically everyone, is saying:

  We don't want to give you that vote.
  We just want to give you this ad
  because that's what we're getting paid for.
When I get a Breitbart story listed on Google News, I'm wondering about the programmers who wrote the policy that served it. What were they thinking? Rarely. Were they Rarely thinking? I could maybe slap them upside the head with a Swipe Left but apparently they know better.


That being said, you're proposing introducing a dynamical system, and dynamical systems are freaking hard to get right. Extremely sensitive, with counterintuitive consequences. If you want the engineers to even understand why pages are served the way they are, or to improve the quality, you should not be advocating for user-submitted votes.


This story is fascinating to me. I also run a couple of these "wordpress" informational type sites, but never in my dream did I thought about publishing fake news to make money.

Too bad I was not smart enough to get into this business.

I wish he would be more honest about it. I am pretty sure he's just doing it for the money. I don't blame him. That's good money.

The moral and ethical dilemma of it is kinda murky. Is it really his fault people are so stupid?


Probably he indeed started doing this for fun but eventually did the "pivot" :-).


Wow. Thanks for the insight into this psychology. It's all greed with you then isn't it? You'll lie to people and de-educate them for good money. Perhaps you would consider being a slum lord or a pimp or a drug dealer for the right price?


Don't think we're really on a moral high ground here when a huge chunk of this forum likely makes a living from utilising in depth personal info to drive advertisements, targeted advertising from the major tech companies make it all possible.


Do you really think it's possible to de-educate any further people who think the moon landing was faked?


Of course. "Do you really think" it's fine to encourage them further?


Just as education, de-education is a lifelong process.


If one lacks education in the first place, they don't have much to de-, do they?


I suppose you would watch the world burn.


> But, he says, dozens, maybe hundreds of entrepreneurs will be ready to take his place.

This is one of many examples of the dialog where this individual is speaking for others while ironically indicating he's running a "business". The fabrication and willful spread of disinformation is a powerfully disruptive behavior.


This is a common "troll" mentality.

Truly they just get a thrill from getting a rise out of someone (and/or there's an economic motive, as is the case here), but they're able to post-rationalize it as a helpful service to their victims. They're pointing out areas of weakness; or they're playing 'devil's advocate'; or they're demonstrating the folly in engaging with an unreasonable person.

One of the things I find most frightening about people is that, generally, we all think we're the good guy.


>This is a common "troll" mentality.

Also the justification for nuclear proliferation. . .


I notice that his attempts to seed fake news on the liberal side always got promptly debunked. I think this election is going to be the high water mark for fake news, its just that liberals are ahead of the curve in being skeptical about information on the Net.

What this needs is a click-baitey headline to make it go viral on the Right. Something like "You won't believe how this liberal guy made $$$ scamming conservatives!".


> its just that liberals are ahead of the curve in being skeptical about information on the Net.

The entire raison-d-etre of the "alternative right" websites is that conservative views are being suppressed in the entire leftist-leaning media establishment. If anything, liberals missed the entire ideological wave by pitting their heads in the sand, until it hit came back to bite them.


I thought so too but on some issues like GMO, gun control, diamonds, etc. liberals believe fake news all the time. Breitbart came from a guy who learned the business working at Huffington post.

Post an inaccurate article about evil Monsanto(and ignore its bigger gmo competitors) or the long dead debeers cartel(diamonds aren't pricy because of debeers).

The load of horse shit on gun controls blows my mind.


Ding! "Left isn't fooled by fake news" makes me just shake my head in disbelief. You named three or four in what... two minutes?

I'm glad you spent the 120 seconds of your life enumerating the ones that work over and over and over again. I wasn't even going to bother.

Left/Right just have different triggers that shut their brains down and make them believe what they're told without any thought whatsoever.


I missed my thanksgiving flight


From what I can tell, liberals aren't exactly skeptical - I've seen a huge amount of fakes spread virally on Twitter, even ones that are on Snopes and have Snopes links in the replies. They just don't seem to be willing to link to fake news websites, and without those links there's no way to turn a profit on the fakery.


Why would liberals be less "willing" to link to fake news? Nobody forwarding a link to one of these stories knows its fake (except the small minority being paid).


I honestly have no idea, but entirely unsourced claims, screenshots, claims that purport to be from other people on social media, and posts that link to genuine news articles which don't actually support the claim being made are all far more common. If I had to guess, dubious links somehow ended up with less credibility than no link at all.


>He wrote one fake story for NationalReport.net about how customers in Colorado marijuana shops were using food stamps to buy pot. "What that turned into was a state representative in the House in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something that had just never happened," Coler says.

Amazing.


Quote 0:

  What that turned into was a state representative in the House
  in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from
  using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something
  that had just never happened," Coler says.
Quote 1:

  Coler, a registered Democrat, says he has no regrets about his 
  fake news empire. He doesn't think fake news swayed the
  election.
Quote 2:

  However, Coler insists this is not about money. It's about 
  showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide 
  and far before the election. When I pointed out to Coler that 
  the money gave him a lot of incentive to keep doing it 
  regardless of the impact, he admitted that was "correct."

Did he created his own bubble to justify this?


Jestin Coler is a cancer and his actions should be made illegal. It seems possible such a law could be narrowly applied such that it would prove constitutional. Judicial review could weigh the value to society of false speech, or lying, against the erosion of integrity in the free press.

One example of a false speech review was the stolen valor act. Lot of doors left open here; http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/the_first_amendment_a...


As long as we're making up fantasy laws to solve this problem, why don't we just outlaw being lazy, stupid, and gullible?


Playing devil's advocate here, but why don't we? It's not the worst idea anyone has ever hand.

I sort of think epistemological pollution is an externality of being stupid/gullible that we should make people liable for.

Laziness is pretty difficult to operationalize, but if you were literally too lazy to feed your children that would be a form of criminal negligence. So we do, to an extent, already do this.


Why don't we? Because thankfully some people understand how power works. Especially the power to imprison people for subjective qualities.

Depending on who's judging, this comment could get you in some legal trouble if those laws existed.

Flawed people adjudicate and enforce laws. Because they are people. Forgetting that is dangerous.


We already do this very liberally in the United States judicial system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negligence.

This has nothing to do with power, and everything to do with a setting minimum legal bar for due diligence below which an individual can be held accountable in a court of law.


They aren't as imaginary as you think. There are types of speech not protected by the First Amendment. Yelling "FIRE!!!" in a crowded theater, for example, is a crime.


So who should Trump appoint to prosecute people who they judge to have written fake news?

SNL would have been charged just this week.

Its almost like the people who put free speech protections in place educated themselves on power, history and law and then thought about it for a bit.


There are already free speech exceptions, do you disagree with all of them?

A viable free press was also meant to be a check agains power. I'm afraid of eroding that more than protecting the ability to lie.

Btw, the SNL example was a cheap shot, obviously parody is protected speeech and is totally different legallly.


Usually they just eventually get sued I assume after picking the wrong target.


Makes me really question if this article is fake to prove some sort of point, it's really hard to know (for sure) anymore


If people see a headline that doesn't reinforce what they already believe, they dismiss it as obviously alt-right fake news, or obviously part of the liberal media conspiracy.

Maybe it's a good idea not to unfriend your [Wrong side] voting facebook friends and relatives, but to keep your network diverse. At the very least you won't be as utterly shocked when [Wrong side] wins, even though absolutely no one you know would ever vote for [Wrong side].


The real problem right now is if you say anything that identifies you as being in someone's [Wrong side], they will attack your livelihood and send you death threats and tell you you're voting for Hitler (yes, many on the right saw Hillary as Hitler, so this works both directions).

We have a society that has been taught:

0) Truth is bad, honesty is a sin 1) Intellectualism is bad 2) Your feelings are as valid as facts 3) [Wrong side] are actually evil 4) [Wrong think] is as bad as murder/rape 5) Do whatever is required given the above

Lawlessness, riots, class struggle, fake news. It all seems a logical extension of what we're being taught.

Point 0 above might seem a little odd to you. So ask yourself: what is the dominant mode of communication in society today? Get up, walk around, observe who is telling you what. Remember, billboards, magazines, TV, salesmen, politicians all count.

Also, ask yourself how long anyone's political career (or even just regular old career) would last if they were honest and truthful 100% of the time?


I think that all the news which we consume is misleading in one way or another; whether they deceive us through outright misinformation, unevenly balanced arguments, or priming (through repeated exposure to particular concepts).

While these small fake news creators deceive us through outright misinformation, big news corporations deceive us through priming.

If you repeatedly draw peoples' attentions to the same concepts and ideas over and over again; they will incorporate these ideas as part of their core belief system and it will cause them to block out real information which opposes those ideas.

Small independent 'news' creators just don't have the necessary scale to leverage priming effects, so they are forced to resort to outright 'sensational' misinformation to push forward their agendas.

I think that fake news is important for society, just like religion; sometimes the intention behind the text is more important than the actual information content within.


Definitely. For example, compare these two Wired articles about the possibility of rigging the US election by hacking voting systems:

https://www.wired.com/2016/10/wireds-totally-legit-guide-rig... was from before the election and claimed that it would be virtually impossible, would require a conspiracy of thousands to get past all the safeguards, and was ridiculous.

https://www.wired.com/2016/11/hacked-not-audit-election-rest... after the election claims that actually, it's well established that they're hackable, and that the audits are so ineffective it's almost as though they're designed not to detect hacking.

Two completely contradictory positions, both backed up with an arsenal of facts and expert opinions and presented as definite truth. All that changed is that the idea the election results could be hacked became anti-Trump rather than pro-Trump.


The problem I have is that I have never seen a denouncement. If there have been any denouncements, then they have not had the same amount of impact as the initiating fake news lie.


If a post is being pitched as news, then some amount of fact checking needs to take place. Traditional media has been doing that forever and identifying sources of information, since they have to uphold their reputation. I think in this day and age the responsibility falls on Facebook, or whatever is publishing the "news". Facebook could use a standardized and easily recognizable visual language to indicate how "newsworthy" a given post is. Heck we now have an animated language for reactions, why can't we have this?

I would be cautious about outright filtering content without giving user some way to set thresholds. It feels like handing way too much power to the algorithm. I want to make the final (informed) decision on what to read and what to believe.


Traditional media has been doing that forever

Have they? I got to admit I used to think this too. But in the past few years I've had quite a few occasions to talk to the media due to them covering a topic I happen to be (publicly) knowledgeable about. I've been quoted in a lot of media stories in various highbrow outlets. So I've been approached by journalists a whole bunch of times for stories.

However, I have never been approached by a fact checker. If news firms were routinely doing fact checks, I'd expect to see

1) Way fewer obvious mistakes that could be detected with 60 seconds Googling

2) Fact checkers emailing me as part of cross-checking stories they're doing on my area of specialism

But I see (1) a lot and (2) never. I've also never heard any journalist refer to fact checkers or tell me to expect my statements to be fact checked, or actually seen any evidence of these people existing at all.


He doesn't need to display ads to make his point. But he does. There is also no "public denouncing" of anything here. (Maybe change the text after 1 hour or something)

He just said that because he don't want to be the bad guy in front of the reporter and his family.


So npr created a fake news based on a fake news created by a Hillary supporter. Let's track down another fake news creator. Who wrote this?


> "FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide." The story is completely false

Yes this story false. What's not false is that a DNC staffer was found murdered in DC and nothing was taken from his pockets right after the DNC email leaks. Assange suggested he was the source and offered up a $25k reward[0].

1. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/08/10/assange-implies-m...


Assange could have made things clear by confirming he was the source.

Otherwise, it is ineuendo: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Democratic_National_Com...


My cynic takeaway: it seems like the concerns over falling ad revenues due to ad-blockers are exaggerated.


There's probably also a relationship between users likely to click on these things, and users likely to have ad block off.


it's stopping the trend before it becomes a norm and even grandma has ad block installed


The MSM is butt hurt they don't control the narrative anymore. The last election proved that. They are scared. Their current strategy is to label their call for censorship as limiting the reach of fake news. Of course everything not in line with whatever narrative they control is fake news. They find some real fake news and attempt to blur the lines in people's heads by associating real fake news with anything not MSM.


When I got to the midpoint of the article, I started to wonder if the author was going to tell me at the end that the whole article was fake news.


Wow this is really interesting. I did the satire writing thing and was disgusted when people believed it without question. I didn't want my real name associated with it, and so I would be unable to promote it. Promoting it under a fake name to people who believed it was distasteful to me, and so I just kinda quit after only writing a few articles.


What to do about fake news?

Some suggestions[1] from John Bothwick Jeff Jarvis.

I particularly like #4. "Make the brands of those sources more visible to users".

-------

[] http://buzzmachine.com/2016/11/18/call-cooperation-fake-news...


Since the government had taken over education aren't they responsible for churning out morons who can't think for themselves and distinguish fake news from real news? Perhaps that was their goal all along.


When companies fail, consumers go somewhere else. When the government fails, we give it more money. The real problem with government is not enough spending.


Not enough or misapplied?


That's the point.


trolltrace.com becoming reality.


[flagged]


> No need to look further, NPR...

If that's meant to imply that NPR publishes fake news, either you're a poorly done troll or you're exactly the sort that those fake news sites are targeted to. Just about everything "news" coming out of NPR can be well sourced, though that may be harder to do for investigative things like this story. Even for this one though I suspect there's enough information in the story to allow a qualified investigator to duplicate or verify their work.


[flagged]


Or "Jestin Coler" is just the name the author used to protect his real identity.


Well, if that's the case, it's off the table now.


> as for actual employed writers, again these guys sort of make their own money through ad code.

He's probably just one of the contributing writers.


Please don't post someone else's personal info. Let's not turn this into a witch hunt.


It's publicly available data that takes a few minutes to dig up.


Am I the only one who had a deja vu reading this article?


And fake news the majority of it on Facebook is shared by Trump supporters.

A demographic who are neophytes....


Im just sharing what Im seeing ... older demographic are not tech/Internet savvy and voting data shows that demographic's majority voted for Trump (no matter what I think of him and or Clinton .. i didnt vote for either).


Possible older folks are less likely to lie to exit pollers, too?


Flagging this issue, again. It's a one-sided, polarized political issue.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: