More than 140 pro-Trump websites being run from Albanian and Macedonian Bloggers.
“This is the news of the millennium!” said the story on WorldPoliticus.com. Citing unnamed FBI sources, it claimed Hillary Clinton will be indicted in 2017 for crimes related to her email scandal.
“Your Prayers Have Been Answered,” declared the headline.
For Trump supporters, that certainly seemed to be the case. They helped the baseless story generate over 140,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.
Meanwhile, roughly 6,000 miles away in a small town in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a young man watched as money began trickling into his Google AdSense account.
Over the past year, some Macedonian and Albanian Bloggers have experienced a digital gold rush as they launched 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com. They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US
The young Bloggers who run these sites say they don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of US display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles. Several teens and young men who run these sites told BuzzFeed News that they learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.
As a result, this strange hub of pro-Trump sites in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is now playing a significant role in propagating the kind of false and misleading content that was identified in a recent BuzzFeed News analysis of hyperpartisan Facebook pages. These sites open a window into the economic incentives behind producing misinformation specifically for the wealthiest advertising markets and specifically for Facebook, the world’s largest social network, as well as within online advertising networks such as Google AdSense.
“Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false, and misleading but the rationale is that ‘if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then use it,’” said a university student in Veles who started a US politics site, and who agreed to speak on the condition that BuzzFeed News not use his name.
Their reasons for launching these sites are purely financial, according to the Macedonians with whom BuzzFeed News spoke.
“I started the site for a easy way to make money,” said a 17-year-old who runs a site with four other people. “In Macedonia and Albania the economy is very weak and teenagers are not allowed to work, so we need to find creative ways to make some money. I’m a musician but I can’t afford music gear. The revenue from a small site is enough to afford many things.”
The Macedonians BuzzFeed News spoke to said the explosion in pro-Trump sites in Veles means the market has now become crowded, making it harder to earn money. The people who launched their sites early in 2016 are making the most money, according to the university student. He said a friend of his earns $5,000 per month, “or even $3,000 per day” when he gets a hit on Facebook.
The 16-year-old who operates BVANews.com with a partner said he also runs health websites in addition to the US politics site. They launched the site in early 2016 and it’s now averaging 1 million page views a month, said his partner. (The teens declined to share revenue figures.)
Aside from the allure of easy money, they also have an element of pride that web-savvy people — including teenagers — in small countires like Macedonia can earn money by gaming Facebook, Google, and Americans.
“A good chunk of the world thinks Macedonia and Albania are primitive countires , but that is not true,” the 17-year-old said.
The young men running these sites know the Trump traffic bonanza will soon come to an end. They expect traffic and revenue to decline significantly once the election is over. But they also hold out hope that a Trump win will keep their sites afloat.
“If Trump loses I plan to redirect my site to sports,” the 16-year-old’s partner said. “It means that there will be no more politics [worth covering].”
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