Fake News Hub from 2016 Election Thriving Again, Report Finds

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A town in the Republic of North Macedonia that became infamous for churning out disinformation ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is at it again.

The town, Veles, is now hosting a crop of popular new websites that are purporting to be U.S. conservative news outlets and are publishing dubious and misleading information, according to a report released Tuesday by the Election Integrity Partnership, a group of research organizations studying misinformation campaigns.

The websites, which claim to “report the news that the mainstream media won’t,” have gained some viral success on conservative social media feeds, according to the report. The sites used virtual mail-forwarding services in the U.S. to fool visitors into believing they were based in America, when in fact they were operated out of Veles.

The sites, which included names like Resist the Mainstream, mainly specialized in copying and republishing content from conservative news outlets in the U.S., including conspiracy theories and misinformation about topics such as voting fraud, the researchers said. The creators of the fake sites targeted a social media service called Parler that is popular with supporters of right-wing causes and calls itself “the free speech social network,” according to the report. They likely chose Parler because of crackdowns by Facebook and Twitter on misinformation, the researchers said.

Some articles then reposted on more popular social-media platforms have received hundreds of thousands of “interactions,” the researchers said.

The report adds to a growing body of evidence that America’s political divisions are good business for foreign click-bait factories, bringing in ad dollars whether the content is fake news, hyper-partisan or a mixture of both. It also highlights the ongoing difficulty that U.S. voters face in discerning trustworthy sources and the veracity of their news received through social media.

“We have no reason to suspect that the operators of these sites are motivated by anything other than financial gain,” the report’s authors wrote. “However, they continue to profit from, and possibly contribute to, polarization in America, with right-leaning individuals unwittingly consuming foreign-amplified content.”

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