A ground-breaking new study from Trend Micro has revealed for the first time the size and maturity of the online fake news business, where a 12-month campaign to influence the result of an election could cost as little as €357.700.
The comprehensive 77-page report breaks down the key steps used to influence public opinion: from reconnaissance of the target audience and weaponisation – preparation of the fake story – to delivery and exploitation via social media, and sustainment with additional propaganda.
At the end of the cycle, the public is often deliberately distracted with a new topic, beginning the cycle again.
Discrediting a journalist for € 49.175
The report reveals the numerous online underground sites offering fake news-style services – which in many ways is an extension of tried-and-tested black hat SEO, click fraud and bot traffic efforts. These sites offer anonymity for any person or organisation seeking to influence public opinion – including nation states.
The report outlines in detail with real world examples how a campaign to spark street protests could be bought for €178.825, discrediting a journalist for €49.175 or even creating a fake celebrity with 300,000 followers for € 2.325. Such services typically include some or all of: the creation of fake social media profiles and groups; developing the fake content itself; driving likes and retweets for dissemination; and even building legitimate-looking news sites.
News sites and trolling
For an extra charge, multiple news sites can be purchased which cross reference each other to add more authenticity to the fake news campaign, the report reveals. It also uncovers the differences in fake news in Chinese, Russian, Middle Eastern, and English-based underground marketplaces.
For example, in China, fake advertorials can be purchased for as little as CNY100 (€12,50), while in Russia, 35 Rubles (€547,-) will buy your video two minutes on the YouTube homepage. The report also details the dissemination of fake news by individuals, for example, the trolling of Manchester bombing victims by some posting fake victim pics on social media.
Finally, there’s some advice for users on what they can do to help prevent the impact of fake news as the first-line-of-defence, including cross-checking stories with major media outlets, researching the author and reading beyond the headline.