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The Advent of Fake News
Aired September 28, 2017 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: Hi. I`m Carl Azuz. Welcome to CNN 10.
It has been said that the truth is stranger than fiction. But that hasn`t stopped a lot of fiction that looks like truth from circulating on the Internet.
Today`s special edition of CNN 10 is all about fake news, stories that appear to be true and may appear to be from an actual news site but that actually have no truth or little truth to them or that no reputable source has ever confirmed to be true.
For example, NASA has confirmed there will be 15 days in a row of total darkness this November because of some weird event involving Venus and Jupiter. Fake news, not going to happen.
Or how about this? U.S. officials say thousands of pounds of rat meat were imported and they`re going to be sold as chicken wings. Fake news, your chicken wings are rat-free.
But a lot of this stuff circulates far and wide, especially on social media. If you`re asking, it`s occasionally the creation of a satire site that`s taken us back. But sometimes, it`s political and influential, and it could be traced to a location in southeastern Europe where serious money is being made from fake news.
ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tucked away in the hills of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is the small city of Veles, a place many thousands of miles away from Washington, but whose voices echo right across America.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So-called fake news can have real world consequences.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fighting the fake news. It`s fake, phony.
CLINTON: False propaganda.
SOARES: For months, I`ve been wanting to come here, ever since I heard over a hundred fake news would trace right here to the city.
The old factories here in Veles, many now left to rust away, used to make ceramics. Today, it`s known locally for something else.
(on camera): Now famous for its fakes news Web sites.
(voice-over): I keep hearing the fake news industry is worth millions of dollars, but walking around, it`s clear to see this is not a city paved with gold.
In fact, it`s a place that feels like it`s trapped in a time warp, while it simultaneously charged ahead into the digital world.
So, it makes me wonder, who are the people behind this supposedly multimillion dollar industry? We find several people in the city connected to the fake news industry, but they`re reluctant to talk openly about it.
(on camera): Will any of the people you know be interested in talking to us? Be able to talk to us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From professionals? No.
SOARES: They`re worried about being exposed and their Websites shut down. This after Facebook and Google begun tracking down fake news.
(on camera): That`s about seven tabs or so that were open.
Just in, Sarah Palin hospitalized. You can spot the stories though really untrue, completely fake.
(voice-over): The stories on this particular Website are fake. But other Websites are actually going further. They are mixing fact and fiction.
(on camera): That is a lie and that`s mixed in with news in the main political page. And someone in the U.S. could potentially be influenced by that. And then make you want to click, and then they make you want to share.
At the moment, we`re looking to track down some of the Websites currently up and running. We want to know what exactly they`re writing about.
This is one of the Websites that we know comes from Macedonia. It has a link to their own Facebook. The IP address and the IP location says it`s Texas. If you look further down, it gives you the address Veles. I want to see if this person speaks up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): Hello?
SOARES: Hello. Can you tell me a bit more about your Website?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a news Website for now.
SOARES: Would you call it a fake news Website?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SOARES: Where did you get your ideas from? Where did you get the stories from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From other newspapers.
SOARES: And who are your readers? Is it American readers? Who are the majority of people --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, mostly, mostly American, yes.
Do the people that read your Website, do they know that your Website is fake?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the meaning for fake Website?
SOARES: Well, they`re not real news. You`re making stories up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From news, I make stories from other news.
SOARES: Copy and paste or do you write your own stories?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I paraphrase some of them. I didn`t copy and paste.
SOARES: Is there any chance that we can meet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SOARES: All right. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, too.
SOARES: So, that was interesting. I wasn`t expecting him to pick up the phone. In fact, I was expecting it to be a fake number. And he doesn`t believe he`s doing anything wrong. But yet again, doesn`t want his face or his name to appear.
As you can see there, we`re not talking about three, four people. It`s 124,000 people who like the stories.
(voice-over): Website owners make their money from advertising. Platforms like Google`s AdSense plays ads on their sites. Every page visit earns a fraction of a cent, but as you can imagine, it quickly adds up with hundreds of thousands of clicks. Then to drive traffic, fake news producers use Facebook. They post links to their stories in fan groups often on the fake profiles, all in the hope that they will go viral.
We spoke to Facebook and Google who told us they are actively identifying and blocking accounts linked to fake news, but on the ground, producers are adapting, as we learn after chance encounter with some producers at a cafe. They didn`t want to appear on camera.
(on camera): How many Facebook profiles do you have to create in order to get your message out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you create Facebook profiles by yourself, Facebook is going to take it down in the next 24 hours.
SOARES: So, how do you get around that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You go and buy real profiles --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- from kids, then we change the names to American persons.
SOARES: Real profiles exist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Existing profiles, yes.
SOARES: Yes. And then you change it to American names?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Small kids, they`ve never had two euros before. You give them two euros, they give you the profiles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s all about the money.
SOARES (voice-over): Despite the breakthrough, we got a sense that every one in this town was protecting each other. But just when we thought our story was going to end there, I got a phone call.
(on camera): This person who produces fake news Websites wants to meet on his term. So, not meeting out here. I`m getting on a car. They`re going to text the location and let`s see how it goes.
(voice-over): We`re driven out of the city center and taken to an industrial part of town, all to protect the identity of a man who says he`s one of the pioneers of fake news in Veles.
(on camera): So, the first office.
Mikhail has arrived. He`s locked in to his Website and I noticed that it`s not your own name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SOARES: It`s someone else`s profile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That we`re doing all the time. We are faking -- fake numbers to fake accounts, so I can reach more and more people.
SOARES: Right. So, here, you`re Jesica.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like you see, Jesica, it`s a fake. A lot of fake pages, a lot of fake numbers, because I at the beginning, you need to do that to make people like your page. I know how it is how to build big site and I will do it again.
I can tell you how much money I have earned in one day. It was around $2,000, $2,500 at one day. For this kind of money to earning per day, you need to have maybe a front page more than half a million, a million people.
SOARES: What makes a good, clickable story in your opinion?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you need to find interesting topic. When you have a million friends, if you post something, even if it`s not interesting, a lot of them will open it just to see what it is and you will get money.
SOARES: You don`t know if it`s true or not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know and I don`t care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the people are reading. Even if they open, I`m getting paid.
SOARES: Are you proud of what you`ve achieved?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 22 years, I was earning more than someone that will never earn in his entire life, with the standard that we have in my country. So, yes, I`m proud.
SOARES: I almost understand why they`re doing it. High unemployment, very little opportunities here in the city. You take a step back. And you look at what they`ve created and how they`ve managed to sustain it.
There is a strategy. There`s a cleverness to this. I think what they`re doing is plagiarizing. I think they`re frauds.
But are we to blame for this? Partly so. As long as people in the United States keep engaging, keep clicking, keep sharing, keep liking, these guys will be in business.