The key to a successful fake news story—and, as always, we’re talking about actual fake news stories, not CNN reports that Donald Trump doesn’t like—is not how believable the story is, but how good it is at making people shocked or angry. That’s what makes someone want to share it on Facebook, and if they’re constantly gasping in horror or scowling in rage, it’ll make it harder for them to actually read the text and understand that it’s all a bunch of bullshit. In the wake of Google and Facebook trying to curb the spread of fake news, though, it seems like some of these sites have evolved into new, slightly more insidious beasts.
This comes from a Buzzfeed report on a pair of “hyper-partisan” news sites called Liberal Society and Conservative 101. After stories started coming out about White House counselor Kellyanne Conway being taken off the TV circuit for a while, both of these sites ended up posting stories about her that were nearly identical—if you ignore the obvious political perspective. For example, one headline said “White House finally gives Kellyanne Conway the boot, are you glad?” and the other said “White House just gave Conway the boot, prepare to be infuriated.” Even the text of the stories match up: The liberal version said “Kellyanne Conway has been a terrible communications director for Donald Trump,” said the other said “Kellyanne Conway has been the go-to communications director for Donald Trump.” They also embedded the same tweets, used the same CNN quotes, and ended on similarly worded questions about how the reader will feel about not seeing Conway on TV as often as they used to.
It’s not just a case of hack writers regurgitating the same information, though. As it turns out, these two sites—and several more—are all owned by a company called American News LLC. Buzzfeed put that together by looking up the Google Analytics and AdSense profiles for these sites, and they all led to the same place. Apparently, American News was founded by two men named John Crane and Tyler Shapiro who initially only published hardcore conservative-leaning fake news, but over the summer, they branched out into hardcore liberal-leaning fake news and have now simply begun writing up real stories that are then filtered through these extremely partisan perspectives.
Essentially, they’re using the same story to tap into both the angry liberal and angry conservative markets by playing them off of each other. It’s brilliant, but it’s also viciously manipulative and it somehow seems even more evil than normal fake news. Plus, since they’re technically presenting true stories, Google and Facebook’s new rules against fake news won’t apply and they’ll be able to keep getting all of that sweet ad revenue. Basically, the only way to really avoid stuff like this is to stay off of social media entirely or make sure that all of your information is coming from sources that you know you can trust.