By Jasmine Bala for the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre
Most fake news creators are doing it for the money rather than for ideological reasons, a leading authority on fake news and verification said at the annual Ryerson School of Journalism Atkinson lecture.
Craig Silverman, the media editor for BuzzFeed News, said two Canadian teenagers who create fake news stories have earned as much as $10,000 a month from advertising after their fabricated accounts about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spread on the Internet.
“Most of the people I’ve encountered tend to be small operators,” he told the crowd of mostly journalism students. “Sometimes they’ll try to pretend that they’re exposing how gullible people are, like they have some higher mission, but really, they do it for money and that’s why they exist.
“The more eyeballs they get on a particular URL, the more money they earn” from advertisements placed on their sites by Google AdSense and other services they’ve signed up for, he said.
In his reporting, Silverman has exposed teenagers in Veles, Macedonia who wrote fake news about Donald Trump because it was, as the teenagers told him, an “easy way to make money.” Among the fake news on the Macedonian sites was a claim that the pope had endorsed Trump for president. This story was considered one of the Macedonian creators’ five most successful posts, he reported.
Silverman’s work as the founder of real-time rumour tracker, Emergent, and as editor of the Verification Handbook, has helped journalists all over the world sort fact from fiction on the Internet. During the U.S. presidential election, he said, the number of fake news sites and stories far exceeded anything he’d seen before.
In Canada, he added, the economic opportunity for fake news creators is somewhat limited because the market is smaller and the economic returns are smaller. He suggested that ideologically motivated fake news, therefore, may play a bigger role in the Canadian context.