Yesterday I smacked Eric Tucker for carelessly producing a fake news tweet that went viral.
Today? These two characters are worse. Because they deliberately produce fake news and they do it for the money.
That naked, that ugly.
Disillusioned college grads find a lucrative niche with a site that stokes the alt-right and plays fast and loose with facts.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Fewer than 2,000 readers are on his website when Paris Wade, 26, awakens from a nap, reaches for his laptop and thinks he needs to, as he puts it, “feed” his audience. “Man, no one is covering this TPP thing,” he says after seeing an article suggesting that President Obama wants to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership before he leaves office. Wade, a modern-day digital opportunist, sees an opportunity. He begins typing a story.
“CAN’T TRUST OBAMA,” he writes as the headline, then pauses. His audience hates Obama and loves President-elect Donald Trump, and he wants to capture that disgust and cast it as a drama between good and evil. He resumes typing: “Look At Sick Thing He Just Did To STAB Trump In The Back… .”
Ten minutes and nearly 200 words later, he is done with a story that is all opinion, innuendo and rumor.
Six months ago, Wade and his business partner, Ben Goldman, were unemployed restaurant workers. Now they’re at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money that they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want people to start asking for loans.
Hot tip: Hey, folks, start asking them for loans. Because they can afford it:
“My article got banned,” Goldman says, explaining Facebook had removed a trending piece headlined: “Right After LOSING The Election, Hillary Clinton Just Humiliated Herself In Worst Way Ever!!”
“F— Facebook,” Wade says, knowing its algorithms sometimes assume that rapidly shared articles are spam and temporarily blocks them if posted by an alternative outlet. “They had a spam filter.”
Wade calls their server technician in Texas. “I don’t know what we have to do to get through these spam filters,” Wade says into the phone. “But we’ve probably lost thousands of dollars because of them.”
Goldman sits on the couch, logs onto an advertiser’s website and looks up how much money they’ve nonetheless made.
“Super great election sales,” he says. “There were some days where we were getting $13, $14 per 1,000 views.” Between June and August, they say, when they had fewer than 150,000 Facebook followers, they made between $10,000 and $40,000 every month running advertisements that, among other things, promised acne solutions, Viagra alternatives, ways to remove lip lines, cracked feet, “deep fat,” and “the 13 sexiest and most naked celebrity selfies.”
All right, these guys are deplorable, but what does it say about the people who, like the woman who writes to them…
“YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE I TRUST TO REPORT THE TRUTH,” is one of the things she has written, and Wade doesn’t need to look at her Facebook profile to have a clear sense of who she is. White. Working class. Midwestern. “And the economy screwed her.”
What does it say about this woman who chooses to get “truth” from guys who are making a fast fortune pushing lies?
And what does it say about the casual contempt Wade and Goldman have for this woman?
A few more quotes from the mouths of these two:
“Violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to.”
“Our audience does not trust the mainstream media,” Goldman, 26, says a little later as Wade keeps typing. “It’s definitely easier to hook them with that.”
“There’s not a ton of thought put into it,” Wade says. “Other than it frames the story so it gets a click.”
“True,” Goldman says.
Takes my breath away.