Pulse check on the Hoaxers

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 8.28.45 PMIn January this year the Share Wars team began tracking 14 satire news sites with the Likeable Engine. These sites included satirical giants such as the Onion and the darker variety of fake-news pundits, like the National Report, whose articles seemed to represent themselves as factual.

Andy wrote about the dodgy sites in The Hoaxers chapter of All Your Friends Like This. If you haven’t read that, you really should. There’s a whole world out there of disturbingly jaded creatives who have discovered that fake news is much cheaper to make than the real thing. And the money made from display advertising running against those fake stories is plenty real. As an example, the publisher of the National Report, Allen Montgomery, said his top writers could earn up to US$25,000 per month.

Tracking with the Likeable Engine involves scraping the homepage of a news site, finding the article URLs, storing those in a database and then asking social networks how many shares that URL has got. The Engine then returns to the social networks and homepages regularly to keep everything updated in increments that give us a ‘sharing curve’ for any particular story.

Those 14 satire news sites have published over 6600 stories between them since we trained the Likeable laser beam on them 10 months ago. That’s not a particularly high output compared to general news sites (for example, ninemsn publishes more than 3000 articles every month, not including wire copy).

What is remarkable is the average share count for those 6000-odd stories. This fake stuff is sharing gold. In total the stories generated over 61 million shares (under our sharecount metric, a Twitter mention or a Facebook Like, Share or Comment counts as 1 share) and the average sharecount was 9254.

That is huge.

When we break the counts down by sites, an even more interesting picture emerges. The Daily Currant is killing it, having registered 96 stories in Likeable averaging 95,000 shares each. The driver for these astounding figures is the number 1 sharer in the category: ‘Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization‘. This Daily Currant story has a sharecount of more than 1.5 million. The story was first published more than a year before Likeable picked it up, in January 2014. The way the engine works, if it hasn’t seen a story before, it assumes it’s new. While this has distorted the data somewhat, the sharecount is still illuminating. Go have a look at this story and see what you think – did the sharers know what they were seeing in their Facebook feeds and passing on was fake news?

Here is the full table of Satire sites with share counts and averages per article:

Articles Total share count Share/article
The Daily Currant (satire) 96  9,149,864  95,311
The News Nerd (satire) 72  3,702,628  51,425
The Onion (satire) 2438  30,775,388  12,623
World News Daily Report (satire) 199  2,462,694  12,375
Huzlers (satire) 265  3,189,920  12,037
Clickhole (satire) 1408  9,473,768  6,729
WIT Science (satire) 40  245,222  6,131
Civic Tribune (satire) 25  111,534  4,461
Modern Woman Digest (satire) 28  113,118  4,040
The Betoota Advocate (satire) 422  644,519  1,527
Naha Daily (satire) 45  65,267  1,450
Empire News (satire) 643  680,608  1,058
National Report (satire) 655  533,289  814
News Examiner (satire) 280  75,135  268
TOTAL 6616  61,222,954  9,254

One last point: since we began paying attention to hoax sites, we have noticed that at least one of them has moved away from ‘real’ fake news and back into obviously fake news. The National Report, home of Allen Montgomery and the Banksy hoax, is now on the straight and narrow with obvious satire such as ‘Ben Carson refuses to admit Syrian refugees into his home‘. This is one line that seems easy to cross – when you’re a satirist, the temptation to make your inventions profitably credible must be great.

Hal Crawford

About Hal Crawford

Hal Crawford is ninemsn's Editor-in-Chief. He began his career at The West Australian newspaper and has taught journalism at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Twitter: @halcrawford

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One Response to Pulse check on the Hoaxers

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