Earlier this year Freedom House issued a report highlighting the widespread involvement of states around the world in the affairs of media. Of the 65 countries analyzed in their Freedom on the Net 2017 paper, 30 were found to be attempting to influence media in either their own country or another country’s (or both).
It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that ‘fake news’ has become big business. A new report from online security firm Digital Shadows outlines just how big a business it is.
The business of fake news
The report reveals a particular boom in spoof media websites that are designed to look legitimate. The authors identified around 2,800 of these around the web. Some of them were specifically designed to replicate authentic sites, either in design or url, whilst others were more generic.
The authors also found a burgeoning business in the modification of documents, a strategy used heavily in Russia. This would involve changing legitimate documents slightly and then leaking them to the public as part of a wider misinformation campaign.
“Like any good news story, content will be shared, liked, reposted and distributed across many different platforms and channels,” the authors say. “The more widely a piece of disinformation can be spread, the better the chances of it capturing the public imagination and achieving its objective—whether that is to discredit an opponent, sow discord or to generate profit.”
The report says that whilst the political use of such tactics has been given a lot of attention recently, the low cost of these tools has rendered it a more widely available strategy for all sorts of commercial campaigns. Indeed, you can begin many campaigns for as little as $7, which would give you a short spell with a ‘bot network’ on social media.
These are relatively new tactics, but the report also highlighted the continuing struggle with more old-fashioned means. For instance, there is still a strong trade in fake reviews on sites such as Amazon and TripAdvisor, whilst the rise in crypto-currencies has given criminals a fresh platform to perform ‘pump and dump’ style scams.
With the dark web providing an untraceable marketplace for such services, it seems to be a battle that will be raged for some time yet.