A tiny town in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has become the global epicenter of misinformation about the U.S. Presidential campaign, according to an extensively researched and cited report in Buzzfeed News.
Over the past year more than a hundred pro-Donald Trump websites have been launched in Veles, a small town with about 45,000 residents— and some young, techies who understood the power of the internet economy and click baiting.
These kids aren’t too interested in presidential politics. On the contrary, they know little or nothing about the campaigns. What they do know, however, is that Donald Trump’s supporters are fervently passionate about their candidate— and hate Hillary Clinton.
This combination alone makes for the spreading of false information with over the top headlines a perfect way to get clicks— and ultimately hard cash into their Google adsense accounts.
According to research by the Buzzfeed News team, 140 websites are operating from Veles, publishing “aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the United States.”
The websites have official-sounding names like WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com and their content is almost always false, sensationalist and heavily anti-Hillary Clinton.
Some of the click bait headlines include:
“Robert DeNiro Switches to Trump Shocks Hollywood”
“Pope Francis Forbids Catholics from Voting for Hillary”
“Breaking: Proof Surfaces that Obama was Born in Kenya— Trump was Right All Along”
“Bill Clinton’s Sex Tape Just Leaked”
“Hillary Clinton in 2013: I would like to see People like Donald Trump Run for Office; They’re Honest and Can’t Be Bought”
The young people interviewed for the story said they don’t care about Donald Trump and only want to make money. An American Facebook user is worth four times more money than a foreign one and clicks to websites from the United States make a lot more money than clicks coming from other countries.
The techies understand the economics of the internet and have been quick to capitalize— earning tens of thousands of dollars from wild stories that go viral— at the great expense of the truth.
“Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false, and misleading but the rationale is that ‘if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then use it,’” said a university student in Veles who started a US politics site, and who agreed to speak on the condition that BuzzFeed News not use his name.
The Buzzfeed News report quoted website creators as making upwards of $3000 per day from U.S. website clicks after stories go viral on Facebook and lead to clicks to the sites.