The idea was simple enough: publish as many absurd, obviously fake stories imaginable, and see if anyone actually falls for it. The results of this experiment were both fascinating and disheartening.
“BREAKING: Satire Makes Fools Of Gullible Trump Supporters.”
That’s the headline James McDaniel published on his intentionally fake news website, UndergroundNewsReport.com, earlier this month.
Within just two weeks of his website going online, McDaniel had already amassed more than a million views, thousands of comments on his stories, and hundreds of thousands of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook.
“While writing them, I was aiming for stories that no one would believe, but rather would be satirical in an age where disinformation is so prevalent,” McDaniel wrote on his website. “Just for fun, I decided to post some of the stories in Trump fan groups on Facebook to see the reactions.”
One fake story, headlined “Wikileaks: Obama Ran Pedophile Ring Out Of Whitehouse” amassed more than 40,000 views. Published in February, the top comment reads:
“I believe it. They are scum. Down with the obama’s his it wife (sic) are him took 111 million dollars worth of stuff that should be repaid back to the taxpayers. Back to America.”
McDaniel created fake news suggesting Michelle Obama had a sex change and Barack Obama tweeted out that “Trump must be removed by any means necessary.”
“To my surprise, the Trump masses embraced my stories as fact, almost universally,” McDaniel wrote. “It seemed that there wasn’t anything I could write that was too wild or outrageous to be believed by this particular audience.”
In a fake post about how the singer Adele told BBC news that Obama “should be in jail,” one of the top comments, posted Feb. 24, gushed over the fake news website.
“I’m impressed by how this website tells us like it is,” the commenter wrote. “No sensationalism at all – straight facts and well documented research, with sources and all. Thank god for the alternative media, that saves us from the mainstream garbage by showing us the truth.”
McDaniel, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen living in Costa Rica, told The Independent his website made him about $615, which he said he planned to donate to the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
“I was startled that in today’s world, so many could be so willfully ignorant,” McDaniel wrote on his website. “It’s truly a frightening time when a group of people screaming, “FAKE NEWS!” at the top of their lungs, live, eat and sleep falsehoods.”
His previous stories now have a link at the bottom to his confession post. But it’s unlikely that will stop many from still supporting false claims. The top comment at the end of McDaniel’s confession post seems to prove his point. It reads simply:
“Funny, I did’t fall for your FAKE STORIES, but FYI…Obama IS gay…there are TWO dead people that testified to it…so…you are proud of yourself for spreading FAKE news, huh? POS rag (sic).”
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