Real News, Viral News or Clickbait in Wait?

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On 23 September 2016, the Associated Media Coverage fake news site, which has now re-branded itself as the Boston Tribune, published an article reporting that a Boston police officer had killed a black man in a dispute over a marijuana cigarette.

They also published an article entitled Woman With CWP Takes Down Department Store Shooter.

I was unaware that AMC had re-branded, and was temporarily stopped by these headlines, especially given the recent events taking place in North Carolina, New York and at the Cascade Mall in Washington. I even forwarded the department store story to our Executive Team, although was able to – albeit red-facedly- call it back as a hoax minutes later.

I knew it looked “hinky;” the interior links did not link to a specific story but rather to general, high-profile websites. No other media outlet had picked up the story. I looked up article specifics: Bradford’s Department stores; nothing. I looked up the name of the Police Chief named in the article; nothing. I slapped myself in the forehead and scolded myself for being “clickbaited”. I did not know that Associated Media Coverage had re-branded itself as the Boston Tribune.

What is Clickbait?

Clickbait is content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.

“Clickbait is a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the “curiosity gap”, providing just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.

From a historical perspective, the techniques employed by clickbait authors can be considered derivative of yellow journalism, which presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines that include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.[4][5] (Wikipedia)”

Three Types of Sites

Fake/Hoax News Websites

Fake/Hoax News sites are satire sites that are not funny.  They are an attempt to play on gullible people who do not check sources and will just pass the news on as if it were really true.

Satire Websites

Who doesn’t love good satire? Satire websites are sites that make fun of the news.  The stories are typically over the top and meant to be funny.  The most famous satire site is The Onion.

Clickbait Websites

Clickbait websites are sites that take bits of true stories but insinuate and make up other details to sow fear. Most of these are conspiratorial in nature are very unreliable.

“These sites don’t worry about saturating their pages with a ton of ads because they don’t really care about anybody staying on the page very long after ending up there,”

Joseph Finkelstein, an SEO expert with Los Angeles-based design firm Desired Reaction, as told to New Republic.

“The articles themselves are just filler stuffed with high trending, low competition keywords associated with current news stories. The way they make money is all in the headlines they’re designed to be inflammatory but just believable enough to entice partisans to click on themor better yet, share themwithout looking too hard. Each page is so loaded up with revenue-generating advertisements that as long as they can get people to click over for a minute, they’re making money.”

via New Republic

The fake “dispute regarding a marijuana cigarette” story:

On the heels of recent scandals involving police brutality among the African American community, Malik Edwards, a 36-year old African American man living in the Boston area was shot by police officers following a dispute regarding a marijuana cigarette.

According to witnesses, Edwards was seen sitting on the porch of his girlfriend’s home located in Evanston, Massachusetts, a municipality about 10-miles outside of Boston when the incident occurred. Edwards was accompanied by 2 additional African American males and his 32-year old girlfriend Nia Brown.

According to witnesses, after approximately 90-seconds of Edwards failing to put out his marijuana cigarette, the responding police officers became very agitated and confrontational. One police officer allegedly told Edwards, “We have enough problems in our town without thugs like you peddling drugs”. When Edwards reached for a half-empty Gatorade bottle sitting on the porch next to his feet, Police Officer, Thomas Wright, drew his police issues handgun and shot the 36-year old man 3-times in the chest. Paramedics quickly arrived to Brown’s home and Edwards was pronounced dead on the scene.

Associated Media Coverage is a well-known purveyor of fake news that has been shamelessly exploiting occurrences of fatal police shootings of black men by publishing fabricated click-bait stories reporting similar incidents.

Woman walking down grocery store aisle - Image used for fake, clickbait story on a department store shooter

Image used for fake, clickbait story on a department store shooter

The fake “department store shooter” story:

37-year old Lisa Harris saved the lives of multiple people after using her concealed carry pistol to take down a department store shooter in Virginia.

According to witness statements, the shooter, who has since been identified by police as 41-year old Randall Pierce, entered Bradford’s department store Saturday evening at approximately 5:10 PM.

According information provided by Chief of Police Matthew Collingsworth during a press-conference, the security footage provided to investigating officers by the Bradford’s loss prevention department shows an agitated Randall Pierce walking briskly throughout the department store for approximately 6-minutes prior to retrieving a .223 caliber AR-15 assault style rifle concealed under his long-jacket.

There is no truth to this report.

This fake news shamelessly exploits recent occurrences of gun violence by publishing fabricated click-bait stories reporting similar incidents (in this case playing on the 23 September 2016 shooting deaths of five people at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Washington). These websites take advantage of politically, socially, or religiously divisive issues to drive outrage-based traffic and can create elevated levels of paranoia, fear and unrest among already agitated and concerned communities.

Referring to the fake department store shooting story, CEO Harry Rhulen commented that “Someone put a good deal of effort into that particular fake story at this particular time.”

In addition to generating revenue, there is a significant risk for generating unrest and inciting fear and violence.

As per SNOPES: Although many readers may now be familiar with Associated Media Coverage’s reputation, the site has recently started publishing articles under the banners of fictitious newspapers such as The Boston Tribune and The Baltimore Gazette.

“Associated Media Coverage was yet another fresh face on the fake news scene in early 2016. After its February 2016 creation, Associated Media Coverage swiftly leapt into the hoax-mongering business with bits about a motorcycle curfew, an e-juice ban, a two-pet maximum ordinance, and a fabricated claim that a transgender woman was shot in a Colorado department store bathroom.

Associated Media Coverage also has apparently spawned sites that appear to be legitimate local news bearing shocking (but fake) stories: Boston TribuneBoston Leader, and the Baltimore Gazette are three that we have been able to identity so far.”

boston tribune

While Associated Media Coverage may be changing their name to The Boston Tribune, their content is still nothing more than fake news.

The Danger Posed

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to protect yourself from social media scams:
  • Don’t take the bait. Stay away from promotions of “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational” pictures or video. If it sounds too outlandish to be true, it is probably a scam.
  • Hover over a link to see its true destination. Before you click, mouse over the link to see where it will take you. Don’t click on links leading to unfamiliar websites.
  • Confirm before you trust your “friends” online. It might not actually be your friends who are “liking” or sharing scam links to photos, quizzes or games. Their account may have been hacked and scammers could be using another tactic called “clickjacking”. Clickjacking is a technique that scammers use to trick you into clicking on social media links that you would not usually click on.

Be cautious, be responsible and be careful.

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