Macedonia’s Fake News Factories | AJ+

Macedonia’s Fake News Factories | AJ+

So-called fake news can have real-world consequences… This is an arms race. They’re going to keep getting better at this, and we need to invest in keeping on getting better at this, too. How much responsibility does Facebook have for the content on the platform? So Facebook knew that this was happening, and you’re saying that they were profiting? I’m Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, and this is a story about fake news and the people profiting from it. In the three months leading up to the 2016 U.S. election, viral fake news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than those from the top 19 major news outlets combined. Some of these fake stories came from an unlikely place — the Republic of North Macedonia, a country of about two million people just north of Greece. There’s all these stories about guys over in Macedonia who are running these fake news sites. We found a lot of different accounts coming from Macedonia. Hundreds of pro-Trump websites popped up all over the country. And teenagers – particularly in one poor former factory town – purportedly made millions by duping American news consumers on social media sites like Facebook. I came to Macedonia to find out what the fake news industry here is like amid a tech industry crackdown and reports that trolls are already preparing to cash in on the next U.S. elections. Saska Cvetkovska is an investigative journalist in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital. She says it’s not a coincidence that Macedonia has become one of the world’s fake news hubs. It has a young, tech-savvy population, an unemployment rate of over 20 percent and the recently ousted government regularly blasted fake news through state-run media. She is investigating who is funding the fake news factories in the country. At the center of Macedonia’s fake news industry is a man named Mirko Ceselkoski. He calls himself an Internet marketing consultant and Facebook strategist, though he’s been referred to as a clickbait coach. He says he’s taught over a thousand young people here how to make content for an American audience. You refer to yourself as the man who accidentally helped Donald Trump win the U.S. election. Mirko started making money on the Internet in the early 2000s by writing stories about yachts and muscle cars. He insists it was purely by accident that his students stumbled upon the money pot that is U.S. partisan politics. Here’s how this works: Create a simple website through a site like WordPress. Choose a domain name that sounds like a mainstream American news organization. Copy and paste stories from alt-right sites like Breitbart and InfoWars. Then create or buy Facebook profiles, pages and likes. When readers click through from Facebook to the websites, they’re hit with dozens of ads. With each click, the ad revenue begins pouring in through automated advertising engines, like Google AdSense. The secret ingredients for a viral hit: Did your students know much about the U.S. or U.S. politics before they started writing these stories? From America. Mirko says his students often hire freelance writers in the United States through websites like Upwork. That’s a lot of money. Do you feel that there’s a moral or ethical concern to be making money off of convincing millions of Americans that something is real, that can then affect how they vote? Facebook’s crackdown on fake news has been bad for business here. In 2020 for example, there’s another huge election in America. You think there will be people doing the same thing? After meeting Mirko, I traveled to a small town that has become the epicenter of the fake news industry here. I’m here in Veles, Macedonia, a former factory town where young people, if they’re lucky to have a job at all, rarely earn over 300 Euros a month, but where fake news factories are now making some of them very rich. I’m on my way to meet a young man named “Boris” who has learned from Mirko’s methods and works in a content factory along with 20 others. We weren’t invited inside. Instead, he agreed to meet me at an Internet café. Boris has asked that we conceal his identity because he’s afraid of legal action from the U.S. He didn’t want to share just how much money he’s made, worried it might reveal his identity. Generally you work at night, right? What do you think about these Americans who were reading all this fake news, the stuff you were publishing? And how did you know what Americans wanted? What Boris told me next caught me by surprise. So Facebook knew that this was happening? Boris is saying that in the days before the election, the price for promoting content that was pro-Trump on the pages he was managing dropped significantly, so he went all in to heavily promote Trump. What are your plans in the next election? My time in Macedonia left me with a lot of questions. so I returned to the U.S. in search of answers. We came here to Facebook’s headquarters to find out what went wrong in the 2016 elections and what their plans are to protect the integrity of future elections in the U.S. and abroad. Monika Bickert is head of content policy at Facebook. This is definitely an area where we’ve made mistakes and where we’re investing a lot in getting better. If you look back to 2016, for instance, our tools that identify fake accounts weren’t as good then as they are now. We’ve come across a lot of accounts that are Macedonian and Russian accounts that seem dubious to us throughout the reporting process but they’re still active. We won’t always be perfect but I can tell you it’s absolutely a priority to proactively find and remove those types of accounts. In the lead-up to the French and German elections in 2017, Facebook removed tens of thousands of fake accounts. But the company announced recently that there may be as many as 87 million fake accounts still on the platform. Facebook is hiring thousands of people to review content, developing artificial intelligence to detect fake news and accounts, and trying to contextualize articles that have been flagged as potential fakes so users can decide for themselves. What would you say to American Facebook users who are concerned about fake news and how it might influence the midterm elections? Facebook certainly has a role to play in removing inauthentic actors, fake accounts, people who are intentionally sharing disinformation to sow discord. At the same time, there’s also more than we can be doing as a society to identify when something is likely fake. I asked her about Boris’s allegations that Facebook was profiting off of content like his. He claims that Facebook knew, whether it was an algorithm’s decision or a human’s, that the price was all of a sudden dramatically cheaper to promote Trump content. Well, for advertising prices, I’d have to follow up with you on exactly how we set those. But we didn’t receive an explanation on the record from the company, despite repeated attempts to obtain one. Former Facebook employee Antonio Garcia-Martinez has his own take on Boris’s claims. He was a product manager who helped develop the platform’s advertising side and left the company in 2013. What do you make of that, because it can be coincidence… It may not be. It may not be. If you employ a certain inflammatory rhetoric that gets people engaged with your thing, then your net media cost will be lower. That is how Facebook is designed to work. But it’s kind of problematic. Right … they didn’t come up with this. Google does the same thing. But yeah, in this context, I think you’re right, that maybe it is problematic, yes. It seems like everyone benefited that was in that game. That’s right. That’s right. As did the Trump campaign. Antonio is critical of the company’s early attempts to minimize the fake news problem. Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election in any way I think is a pretty crazy idea. To discard the possibility that Facebook could actually swing the election so quickly is obviously really disingenuous and, frankly not true. Why? So literally until like 72 hours before the election, there was a huge political ads sales force, which Facebook has, telling every politician with a marketing budget exactly the opposite, that Facebook could deliver them the election. Antonio says that the reason this matters comes down to a simple but fundamental question. How much responsibility does Facebook have for the content on the platform? That really is the big question. So how does the company fix this problem? Trillion dollar question. I don’t know, and I don’t think Facebook knows the answer to it, either. In his recent Senate hearing, Mark Zuckerberg addressed the challenge of staying ahead of fake news before it impacts future elections. This is an arms race, right? I mean, they’re going to keep on getting better at this, and we need to invest in keeping on getting better at this, too. Hey, It’s Ahmed, so as you just saw, some fake news producers are financially motivated, but others have political ends in sight. Be sure to check out this video, we did an interview with an investigative journalist in Russia who went under cover in a troll farm.

82 Replies to “Macedonia’s Fake News Factories | AJ+

  1. So the real story here is that Hillary's team buying sponsored content, and their well funded budget, seemed to create the loop hole, allowing cheap traffic/sponsorship to be bought cheap under the "Trump" Brand.

  2. You know something has gone horribly wrong when there are cities where the only viable means of a stable income is writing actual fake news.

  3. Looking through the comments under this video it becomes so clear how little people understand the phenomenon of fake news and how it used on people who are more susceptible to polarization.

    Wake up guy's, please stop hyper focusing on your opponents camp and look at everything objectively.

    Yes if you're on the right/conservative you are more likely to have consumed/propagated "fake news". During the 2016 election most "fake news" was geared towards promoting Donald Trump. These are facts, not let left attacking you.

  4. So who’s to say what is or isn’t fake news? The Media did fake news about Iraq having WNDs yet are somehow the ones who decide which is fake news?!?!

  5. Facebook knows how to target black people on their platform whom, share true articles outing white supremacy, quite well! They'll ban and block you in a heartbeat.

  6. Mainstream media are the same but "were" professional. However, they didn't learn about the new methods in college. People now are aware of that..

  7. There was a lot in play in the 2016 election. Fake news has existed against every candidate, that has ever existed.

    It didn’t help that Clinton had cheated on Sanders. So she left a lot of millennials behind in battlegrounds, and who decided not to vote.

    I have a feeling that Comey had a hand in swinging the election. People didn’t trust her to begin with, and he didn’t make the case much better.

    Out of all 17 GOP candidates, people wanted to elect some loud mouth guy.

    Clinton, also had another Clinton before her. In the battlegrounds that made her lose the election, Bill Clinton made NAFTA, which severely hurt those rust belt states.

    It was also very tossup who would win the 2016 election. We had a two term Democrat and it is very unlikely for any party to win a third presidential term, in a consecutive row.

    Not to mention the Supreme Court was in the hands of the incoming president.

    Now I want to warn all who didn’t vote in 2016, to Vote in 2018. If you are unhaapy, #VOTEBLUE. Send this president a message that we will not be played.

    Tell this president that Children will not be political leverage for building a wall. Tell this president, who’s boss. Let this president know, that we will not be silent.

    Millennials you are the voice of tomorrow! VOTE BLUE!! GET OUT AND VOTE BLUE!! #VOTEBLUE!

  8. Fake News is Off the Hook. Even the For the Devil. The Devil is Real and he can fake a Demon in the form of an Angel.

  9. Remember the Enquire Magazine i saved an Article on Gaint Hamster and Bill Clinton Shaking Hands with the Ailiens.??

  10. Anybody who has a facebook account is an idiot to begin with, idiots cannot be protected from themselves. "Fake news" is not the problem. The problem is stupidity. There is no cure. The proof is in the oval office.

  11. Monetizing the fake accounts is the problem. Removing the fake accounts is treating the symptom and not the source of the problem. No political content, should be monetized.

  12. but fake news thing, started with United States Companies like CNN or maybe MSNBC. other people just mimic them, I mean even CNN, they still making up these Bias news, It's a media idea from the start, and now Democrat is getting a taste of their own medicine.

  13. i feel like university is supposed to teach you about life and longterm thinking so the way the university speaker is talking down on these ethical issues in front of students and almost enabling them feels like a horrible choice to me.

  14. AJ doesn't understand how advertising works. If it was cheaper to advertise on Trump that means there were less advertisers. Because the prices of ads is based on competition. This means there must have been more people advertising on Facebook for Hillary than Trump. Why aren't you freaking out about people supporting her campaign.

  15. I'm in the UK and I'm literally going to post a fake news story tomorrow or later today and promote it via FB ads. EVERYBODY does it. 😀 This is the interwebz.

  16. 0:55 HOLD ON A MOMENT! It's not yet called North Macedonia. I hate it when "news channels" do this. You can't talk about fake news but present wrong information, that's hypocritical. You can't just make up stuff. Period.

  17. If u are an American citizen and dnt feel some type of way about this….something is truly wrong with u! This don’t make no damn sense! Wow ?

  18. i just want to state that aj+ pushed a fake story a year ago on facebook. i shown the real story to them and everybody that was showing it to me. they blocked me from there page.
    aj+ eat a big hearty bowl of dicks. if people really wants to see the real problem with the u.s. its garbage like you shacks of filth making these bogus stories that totally twist the truth and release it when there is ''scary thing happening'' so the u.s. can become divided.

  19. Hezbollah blasting hate speed on its official Twitter account is still active.
    What you call fake news is the manifestation of lies perpetuated by media itself so the anti-establishment believe in every contrarian opinion only because there is firm conviction that media is lying. Bad karma of western society has piled up against it and the day of judgement is fast approaching

  20. How come the Simpsons shows show what is going on in America and the world years before some of these things happen?

  21. If Americans are stupid enough to believe in fake news then go ahead Macedonia and make millions off of it

  22. Google needs to block adsense payments to parasite countries like Russia and Macedonia and fake news outlets like Shitebart, Milo Yanksoffkidsalot etc.

  23. Here is the biggest fake news perpatuated by every western country and the US government and every mainstream media in the US Iraq had nuclear weapons second Syria used chemical weapons. so facebook being only responsible for fake news is ludacris its only a scape goat.

  24. +AJ+ – $100, 0000 a month from Google Adsense? This is highly unlikely given that Google Adsense only pays about $1 for 1000 impressions of an Ad. For someone to get 100k in earnings per month they will have to get at least 1 Billion visits on their website per month.

  25. Reminder: Hillary Clinton did not because of fake news. She lost because she is a horrible human being and our ah-t electoral system only allows for sh-t candidates.

  26. Most news is partly or entirely fake. There is an intense competition for the hearts, minds, and eyeballs of the world's population, and spin or outright lies can help win this competition. Let's not pretend that news outlets are playing a game that they are not trying to win. Everyone is cheating at this game, and it would be naive to think otherwise. Major news outlets are controlled by cabals. These smaller fake news competitors are playing the same game on a smaller scale, and most of them are also controlled by cabals. Al Jazeera is run by one of these cabals, so it is no surprise that they would want to "expose" their smaller competitors.

  27. So it’s unethical for these people to do that. But this journalist finds it OK to hide identity of the troll himself? That doesn’t seem very ethical either. It’s just adding to the problem. The guy is in fear of having the United States finding out who he is. Bingo that’s a great idea

  28. The EX Facebook employee seem to have an ax to grind. He didn’t seem credible. It was like he was looking for his 15 minutes of fame.

  29. Americans are blinded by their division and wanting to prove who's better or right during elections, don't see the distractions of other countries using the perfect tool to do it.

  30. Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is the source of fake news and fake history. It's good that people have realized this.
    Their ethnicity is fake and artificial, made official by Tito, thinking they are related to the ancient Macedonians who were Greek.

  31. I love how this clearly shows that eastern Europeans are profiting and exploiting from American stupidity. As a far leftist i'm against exploitation but to profit from true ignorance and lack of intelligence, I say to you my fellow Maco's, bravo!

  32. in this segment we see that Facebook was in fact, not only maximizing campaign funds from all sides, by telling each side that Facebook could help the different campaign teams win the 2016 election, but in fact on having promised Facebook his campaign would be spending 100 Million Dollars in adds, had Facebook personally assign a Facebook IT professional who Brad Parscale could quickly use as a kind of Facebook user Manual. in other interviews with ex Facebook employees tasked with finding Fraud and manipulation, Facebook higher ups ignored the concerns the teams were raising.

  33. Sounds like a cia type ops. social engineering the world financiers are at it trying to make terrorist like attacks. on information dissemination. to use it in the mainstream news to demonize free speech and as and excuse to silence speech. next they'll try to demonize comments. Proof financiers spend monies to trick us all. they now want us to think we need laws against free speech. when really we need laws to call this terrorism. the wep pages they used in this situtaion may not even be bad but they are tying them in with this huge scam. block incoming internet request from unconfirmed outside sources. simple as a pimple pop. cyber wall with a couple of closely monitored gates. for incoming and outgoing. a segregated network like AOL use to be. hmm.

  34. In addition Trump himself steers audience away from legitimate news sources by labeling them fake, thus increasing the herd of followers of predatory news factories. After all this is the people mass that is likely to get him a second mandate.

  35. Fake news is just a product and YOU are the customer. You either “buy” or don’t!

    Cross check your sources, keep cool until truth surfaces and be responsible about what you put out there! Fake news can only be defeated at the individual level. That’s YOU!

  36. Full documentary on YouTube by PBS' Frontline called "The Facebook Dilemma." It was a two-part investigation so there are parts One and Two on YouTube.

  37. how was hitlery even close? shes a megafalure liek her husabnd!! rememebr 80s deregualtion let to the NET and clinton got there whiel net went beserk!! he fuckied everything with overspending and regualtion including 2008 housing laws fanny freddy!! clinton caused 2008!

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