Last month (link) I mentioned the problem of misinformation voters as distinct from low-information voters. Low-information voters just don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, which I admit is completely understandable if a problem for a democracy. But by misinformation voters I mean those who make a serious effort to stay informed but still wind up believing things are are demonstrably not true.
One problem is fake news, which in 2016 proved a profitable business model, notably for a bunch of English-speaking teenagers in Macedonia. A Google search will take you to a bunch of interesting articles on that, including those published by The Washington Post (an 18-year-old makes several times his country’s average wage from fake news), the BBC (thanks to its young people, the city of Veles (population 45,000) has become a profitable fake news capital), NBC, and Buzzfeed (which I think was the piece that first drew attention to the Macedonia connection).
There are Americans in on it as well. In November The Washington Post published an interview with 38-year-old Paul Horner, who has for several years earned a living creating Internet hoaxes. (As John Oliver said in pointing out that Scotland had made the unicorn its national animal: Who knew you could do that?) Horner wrote numerous fake news items designed to appeal to Trump supporters, whom he considered quite gullible.
My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.
Interestingly, Macedonian fake news sites also specialized in news favorable to Trump, apparently in the hope Trump fans would broadcast links to the stories and thereby get fake news sites more page views and hence more ad revenues.