Funding fake news

October 9, 2018

The main aim of disinformation websites is to make money for their owners.

A few exceptional sites forego making money and instead opt to drive a political agenda. These websites re-purpose the disinformation they distribute, shifting the emphasis from a financial imperative to a political one. The now defunct www.WMCLeaks.com website was one such example, and was an attempt to distract the discourse from the damaging Guptaleaks which was released at the same time.

But the non-monetised propaganda sites are by far in the minority.

The sensational nature of most stories and headlines published on disinformation websites elicits a lot of reaction on social media. The traffic this generates is in turn monetised by various means, thereby generating an income for the owner.

During the course of News24’s investigation into disinformation websites, we’ve identified three key methods used by disinformation sites to turn the clicks into cash.

 

  • Programmatic advertising platforms, such as Google Adsense, MGID and Taboola makes use of designated advertising areas on a website that gets populated with adverts selected by the platform. The programmatic platform functions as a broker, bringing advertisers and website owners together, and taking a cut in the process. This also means that the advertiser has little control over where their brand gets displayed, being totally reliant on the advertising platform and its algorithms to determine ad placement.

 

  • Direct advertising is reminiscent of the old fashioned way of making money with a website. An advertiser “rents” a section of a website in order to exclusively display their advertisements in that section. It provides both the advertiser and the website owner with a large amount of control over where their advert appears. Similiar to purchasing airtime on a billboard next to the highway – direct advertising.

 

  • Cryptojacking is a relatively recent addition to the moneymaker’s arsenal. With the popular rise in cryptocurrencies in recent years, some developers have found creative ways to leverage technology to get in on the cryptocurrency boom. One such development entails websites containing code that automatically mines cryptocurrency in the background for as long as the website remains open.  Without knowing what to look for, most users wouldn’t even realise that this was the case.