Sunday, March 10, 2019

Anatomy of a Fake News Post - How Fake News Generates Profit

"Fake News" - we heard the term a lot during the 2016 Presidential Election. But what is it, and why are people posting it?

Contrary to what many organizations would have you believe, most "fake news" isn't posted to manipulate elections. In fact, most fake news is posted to generate ad revenue or influence consumer spending.

Fake news isn't anything new, and in fact pre-dates the Internet. Newspapers and magazines would publish "advertorials" designed to influence consumer spending and encourage purchase of certain products or services. For many years this was completely unregulated, and consumers would have no idea that these articles were in fact paid advertisements.

While Federal regulations in the US require that advertorials include disclaimers that they are paid advertisements, not all sites, especially those hosted overseas, follow the rules.

Recently we at the WashCo Chronicle decided to deep dive into a fake news campaign being promoted on Facebook, and analyze its effectiveness.

First, the business purchases one or more domain names. These domains are typically hidden behind a proxy service to shelter the owner. In this case, the fake news site is "".

Registration information for, the fake news site we're analyzing.

After establishing the domain, the fake news site begins adding multiple articles to make their site appear to be legitimate to the casual user when visiting a link. This doesn't have to be actually functional news on the main page, just enough content so that when visiting the article, the user believes the site is legitimate. In this case, the fake news site is promoting a bitcoin purchase site.

Content on the site is lacking, but that's intentional.

When the user visits the target URL, they believe they're on a legitimate news site.

Now you've gotten a glimpse of the article - its intention is to convince the visitor to purchase bitcoins through a site called "Profitcoins". It's a rather convincing article on how the visitor can make "millions" using this Belize company.

A screenshot of the Profitcoins website

Finally, once everything is setup, the fake news site is promoted through a very official looking Facebook advertisement. These advertisements are often targeted towards those who would likely invest, based upon Facebook's marketing demographics.

Facebook ad for the fake news site.

How effective is this method of advertising? Extremely. The fake news site uses shortened URLs through Bitly to track how many click-throughs to the main Profitcoins site are generated.

Statistics for click-throughs to the Profitcoins site.

In just four months across multiple fake news sites, this advertising approach has generated over 100,000 visits to the Profitcoins website. That's over 100,000 people who have been tricked into visiting this Profitcoins website.

Unfortunately, the fake news site is so convincing, that not even Facebook would take action. We reported the fake news advertisement to Facebook, and received a response that it did not violate their advertising terms.  And why would Facebook remove the ad? It's performing extremely well, as evidenced by the Bitly URL statistics.

Facebook refuses to remove the fake news advertisement.

Unfortunately, while Facebook focuses on political "fake news" (which unfortunately is often removal of opinions they don't agree with), they're only scratching the surface of the actual fake news stories, and the malicious advertisers continuing to prey on unsuspecting Facebook users.

We hope that eventually Facebook will fix this, and focus on the actual malicious advertisers, instead of feel good politics.

The WashCo Chronicle is an independent news aggregator and news source. We have made every attempt to publish only factual information, but if we made a mistake please let us know and we'll correct it as soon as possible.  The best way to reach us for corrections or news tips is through our Facebook page.