The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News
THE FIRST ARTICLE about Donald Trump that Boris ever published described how, during a campaign rally in North Carolina, the candidate slapped a man in the audience for disagreeing with him. This never happened, of course. Boris had found the article somewhere online, and he needed to feed his website, Daily Interesting Things, so he appropriated the text, down to its last misbegotten comma. He posted the link on Facebook, seeding it within various groups devoted to American politics; to his astonishment, it was shared around 800 times. That month—February 2016—Boris made more than $150 off the Google ads on his website. Considering this to be the best possible use of his time, he stopped going to high school.
Boris isn’t his real name. He prefers the anonymity because he doesn’t want to break ranks with the other people in his town of Veles, in the Balkan nation of Macedonia. Nobody here wants to dwell on Trump anymore. Veles has the feel of a small community clamming up out of a suspicion that it’s being talked about for all the wrong reasons.
In the final weeks of the US presidential election, Veles attained a weird infamy in the most powerful nation on earth; stories in The Guardian and on BuzzFeed revealed that the Macedonian town of 55,000 was the registered home of at least 100 pro-Trump websites, many of them filled with sensationalist, utterly fake news. (The imminent criminal indictment of Hillary Clinton was a popular theme; another was the pope’s approval of Trump.) The sites’ ample traffic was rewarded handsomely by automated advertising engines, like Google’s AdSense. An article in The New Yorker described how President Barack Obama himself spent a day in the final week of the campaign talking “almost obsessively” about Veles and its “digital gold rush.”
- Secret Facebook Groups Are the Trump Era’s Worst, Best Echo ChamberBY EMILY DREYFUSS
- The Bittersweet Sweepstakes to Build an AI That Destroys Fake NewsBY CADE METZ
- Meet the Ad Companies Ditching Breitbart and Fake NewsBY DAVEY ALBA