The news is fake. The audience is fake. But the ad dollars are real.
In case you were wondering, the business of fake news is alive and well… and now most of its readers are fake, too.
A new report from BuzzFeed reveals that several fake newspapers — including the Albany Daily News in New York and the City of Edmonton News in Canada — used elaborate fake news sites and what experts believe to be fake readers to generate oodles of ad money.
It’s a new kind of fake news
And unlike other types of fake news that were designed to mislead readers and impact their behavior in elections, this new breed is designed instead to bilk advertisers out of ad dollars.
It works like this: Fraudsters create fake local news sites and then flood them with a mixture of (most likely fake) traffic so they look realistic to advertisers. Then, once the fraudsters start selling ads, they crank up the fake traffic — and pocket all the ad money.
In August, the Albany Daily News raked in 10m page views — about 5x as many as the real, 160-year-old Albany Times Union.
It’s simple… it’s brilliant… it’s bullsh*t
And yet big brands still paid to serve these ads: Hilton, Sephora, Best Buy, Microsoft, Home Depot, Geico, and Google all ran ads on the fake sites.
So, how’d they get duped? Well, their partners got duped — and since brand ads travel through a long funnel of 3rd parties before appearing live on the web, many of these brands likely had no idea they were paying for fake news readers on fake news sites.
Many of the ads on these sites were sold on ad exchanges belonging to Google, AppNexus, Taboola, and Outbrain.
Want to read more on the fake news economy? Check out this Hustle profile of one of the country’s biggest fake news purveyors.