Last week, Twitter's stock rose 8 percent after Bloomberg's release of information that a suitor (likely Google) was considering buying the company for $31 billion. Unfortunately, this news of a potential buyer was not real. The story's origin can be traced to a webpage published on the domain bloomberg.market. The single page article also purposefully misspelled Twitter CEO Dick Costolo's name. It was all part of a modern pump and dump scheme utilizing a fake content farm, which is now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Should it be this easy to impact something as 'real' as the stock market with fake content on a fake content farm?
With even a rudimentary knowledge of HTML, this act of market terror doesn't seem like the elaborate work of 'scam artists.' Studying the image above is a lesson in contemporary content farming web design. This gimmick created the perfect piece of web media that first allowed our eyes to glaze over the long, content-descriptive URL at the bloomberg-dot-market domain. It heisted a plausible Bloomberg logo and CSS that made it look like just another forgettable content farm that had the authority to recap press releases. A Bloomberg style recap with just enough plausible information was delivered, even a cute lil ad zone with remnant advertising was included. Share buttons too!
There was some web artfulness required to pull this off, and the greater lesson may be that the web is just one big indecipherable pile of pages. You are constantly getting linked to multiple sites that all look the same. Who cares if you are searching for entertainment news, political opinion, or important SEC-wave financial information? You're going to be browsing a familiar architecture of web design that your brain has automatically given 'authority.'
Consuming content on the internet is not a search for truth. It's the decision to get lost in a version of the world that you want to believe in. That's why fake-yet-plausible current event generating sites that are not even particularly satirical are entering the mainstream realm of consciousness. The killer content that fake content farms have been producing have earned their own place in the web-to-tv-back-to-the-web based media cycle.
Fake news websites aren't new. Every day, multiple fake news content farms comb the web to find the most popular figures, events and controversial issues. They'll craft stories that could go viral [via social media] based on some sort of plausibility. Not all stories will impact the stock market, but they will generate millions of hits if they tap into the proper realm of passionate_argument_wave zeitgeist of the day/week/month/year.
Sometimes, these stories will get picked up by 'real' sources who want to believe something absurd, like when a woman's butt implants exploded while she was doing squats.
This meme is a perfect example of crafting fake news. It allowed so many websites to tap into multiple realms of interests. Fitness, butts, and physical tragedy. The fake story even 'teases' with a photo that requires you to click through to the page to see a graphic/sexy photo. Even though the story is fake, the average Schlubby American who is sourcing their non-news on Facebook wants this type of story to be real. They want humans with perfect butts to pay a price.
Fake news is the perfect content. Because none of it is real, it can truly be optimized for the web without thinking about hurting the parties involved. Headlines won't #shame any one. Photographs can be sourced from anywhere. Putting the fake news into the 'real' media cycle doesn't require factchecking, since every content farm is depending on the authority of the content farm visual aesthetic.
When your content farm piggybacks off fake content, every one wins in the chase for hits. On top of that, fake news & content allows 'the real media' to simulate a process of 'searching for the truth.' Being a 'debunking' source allows your content farms media brand to resonate with people who are on a quest for understanding of the world. Fake content provides the #teachable_moment that only thinkpieces and reporting/#journalism performed from a browser can address.
'The real media' gets it both ways when they 'debunk' the false stories. They have the opportunity to initially publish the 'fake story' under the pretense that they believe it is real. They can capitalize on traffic that caters to the plausible desires of readers and social media cross stream sharers. It doesn't matter if it has to do with a woman's butt exploding or the Beyonce & Jay-Z's attempt to buy the rights to the Confederate flag. Let's publish the potentially #trending topic, then add a 'correction note' if the news should change.
The line between traditional content farms with authority who are using 'real life news' to infinitely scale get blurred when they are so desperate to create new content that they can't resist the plausibility of fake news.
Whether you are a fake content farm like Newswatch33.com or a real, $100 million content farm like ViralNova, the goal is to use Facebook to scale your message. Fake content farms prove the idea that scalable content doesn't need to be true. You don't need highbrow content that crafts a unique voice. Even 'high end' satire websites like the Onion and Clickhole might be a waste of time when there are millions of people who'd prefer to be outraged and astonished. If they choose to embark on their own search for truth, that route is available, too.
Fake news content farms might be the only way to save ourselves from the depths of endless content. The complete ridiculousness of the stories that they generate actually fit into the meaningless aesthetic of the Related-Stories web. If you are using content farms to make decisions or value billion dollar companies like Twitter, maybe you should reconsider how you apply value to life/business/culture/sports/technology/everything.
Not all content was created equally. Even though the truth 'usually sets you free,' the mantra does not apply to content. Telling the truth might be leaving millions of dollars worth of value on the table. If everything is clickbait, maybe it just hurts a little bit less to realize you've been duped when the story was fictionally crafted to generate your interest.