Are you financing fake news?

With each click, comment, or share of content from anonymous portals and pages, you are directly contributing to their profit making scheme. What seemingly humorous and entertaining Facebook pages often hide are so-called “click farms”.

By: Emir Zulejhic

Imagine you have a chicken farm and that  your monthly income is 500 EUR. Now, if you had two such farms, the profit would be 1,000 EUR, three farms would generate 1500 EUR, and 10 would mean 5,000 EUR of income. The same principle applies to all other activities and crafts:  by multiplying facilities and production, you multiply the profit too.

However, establishing a new chicken farm or any other plant is neither easy nor cheap. In addition to the necessary costs, there are laws and regulations that must be respected. But, imagine that there were no laws and regulations, and that it was possible to increase both production and profits in a single day and at minimal cost, without having to register your business, or declare your income and taxes?

In the world of online media and Internet portals, this in fact happens.

It’s very easy and inexpensive to establish an Internet portal in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is no law to regulate this area and therefore there is a total anarchy.

This prompted many to launch a portal that is then converted into a platform for advertising and disinformation that generates profit. After creating a portal and connecting with one of the platforms at a small cost, they start displaying ads and accumulating earnings calculated on the basis of a number of visitors. The more people opening the portal, the higher the earnings from displaying adverts. To further expand the business, many have created “click farms”.

If one portal brings a certain amount of money, 3 to 5 portals mean 3 to 5 times more money. “Farm” portals are actually networks and groups of interlinked Internet and Facebook pages. Inside they are portals that look like news media but which are certainly not. Although on such sites one can find articles that resemble news items, they do not have an editorial staff or journalists writing its content. The sole purpose of their existence is to make profit and they are therefore full of advertisements. The most significant channel in this process is Facebook, which is the easiest platform for reaching the audience and generating site visits.

How many of you have seen in your Facebook feed a photo reading “Tag a friend whose name starts with ‘M’ and he must buy you a kebab”? Did you in fact tag a friend whose name starts with ‘M’?

How many of you have seen a photo of a person with disabilities with the message “today is my birthday?” Have you congratulated a person who is in fact not having a birthday?

Have you ever commented a post asking you to leave a comment and express your opinion on something”?

Posts on Facebook that have no reaction – comments, likes and shares – are less visible. Posts that have more interaction will be more visible to a growing number of Facebook users, which means more visits to a portal. And this is the basic principle of operation of “click farms”. A large number of interactions related to specific content increases the visibility of all other posts, and articles that are shared.

The owner of that chicken farm must have as many hens and eggs to make a larger profit. Similarly, the owner of a “portal farm” must have as much interaction and visits in order to reach more people and earn more money.

The owner the chicken farm generates profit from customers who buy his products. The owner of the “portal farm” makes profit from its readers, i.e. they are directly financed by all of us. Each time you click, comment or share any content of this kind, you directly support their existence and earnings.

The only source of income that the owners of anonymous portals rely on is a click, so the only way to tackle spreading of the disinformation is to pay no attention to such portals.

We finance them, so we also have the power to make them disappear or to at least limit the success that they have enjoyed until now.

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The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.