Fake news is a very real problem, one that can sway elections and have monumental effects on society. Now, a new cybersecurity research report claims that producing a fake news campaign is not only incredibly cheap — it’s also super easy to execute.
A new report from the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro takes a closer look at the cost of running misinformation campaigns hosted by various “content marketers” that offer services in Russian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and English.
These so-called content marketers offer a wide variety of services for running a fake news campaign including things like creating fake social media profiles (about $2,600), writing fake news stories ($30), and even making a video appear in YouTube’s main page for a couple of minutes ($620).
There are also more malicious services offered including sparking social unrest, discrediting journalists, and putting constant pressure on a political party or organization. If all these real world outcomes sounds too crazy to be true, consider recent events like the Minnesota sit-in over a racial slur or the Comet Pizza shooting, which were both inspired by fake news stories.
Running these fake news campaigns are surprisingly cheap to execute, according to the report. The cost of discrediting a journalist, for example, is priced at only $50,000 and involves creating a fake news story to contradict the target’s reporting, then having the article promoted through things like likes, retweets, upvotes, and comments. It also involves having bots target the journalist’s Twitter account and inundating them with negative comments.
Influencing an election is slightly more expensive, but still surprisingly cheap considering what’s a stake. “A 12-month campaign with a budget of $400,000 should be able to at least attract a multitude of people whose perception and belief are aligned with the campaign’s preferred agenda,” says the report. “The deciding factor for this campaign’s success, however, is the timing, or how quickly fake content can be spread before the actual decision is made.”
Of course, the giants of Silicon Valley like Google and Facebook are committed to fighting fake news in their own ways. Both companies have been testing tools to downgrade or at least flag false news reports. Unfortunately, it’s still unclear whether these new tools can effectively thwart campaigns from click farms like the one recently featured in a Motherboard report. These businesses are actually quite sophisticated, and it’s safe to assume that when the tech giants change their methodology for sorting through fake news, the content farms that execute these campaigns will adapt in lockstep.