by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
It all began with a conversation on Facebook with a conservative friend of mine and ardent Trump supporter. I had posted an article about Erik Prince. He is the founder of Blackwater, a solders for hire firm that is also providing very militarized training programs for our domestic police departments. I was surprised to learn that Betsy DeVos was his sister. The story is about him being a quiet Trump advisor.
My friend immediate responded with a link to FakeNewsChecker.com that lists Democracy Now as a fake news site. I went to the FakeNewsChecker site for myself and saw that it lists perhaps hundreds of new sites as "fake news" sites. I was suspicious about this site as I am confident that Democracy Now, while progressive in its editorial decisions, present fully accurate, verifiable information.
Also overdue, is a discussion of what makes news "fake" news. In my view it is willfully false information presented as news either for profit or propaganda. It isn't mistakes in reporting or accurate reporting, but selective reporting. It isn't obviously intended satire either.
What follows it our Facebook discussion and my findings about the rise of fake, fake news checker sites here and abroad.
ME: WOW!!! This a really scary. I didn't know
The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill has revealed Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, has been quietly advising Trump’s…
Friend: Don't believe it: http://www.fakenewschecker.com/fake-news.../democracy-now
Democracy Now has been added to the growing list of untrustworthy and fake news sources.
Me: Thank you for sharing this. I. Was unaware until now that there was a fake, fake news reporting site. Democracy now is Progressive in terms of its editorial content but it is one of the most respected news sites on the web for its accuracy in reporting.
Friend : Again, We have to agree to disagree.
ME: your discovery of the Fakenewschecker site and it's obvious flaws lead me to do some checking of my own.
First you will notice that there is no ownership information or "about us" menu on the Fakenewschecker.com website. This is a sure sign that the owners want to remain anonymous, not a good thing for a site that claims to check facts. There are no links or statements or any other evidence of an attempt at transparency. There is no discussion of what criteria or process the site uses to make hits findings. There are no references to source material used.
Next I learned that fake news checker sites are popping up in other countries lately. There is growing concern around the world that this may be a coordinated attempt to undermine confidence in news gathering. There is some evidence in Europe linking these sites to Russia (See a portion of an article below).
Then I looked the domain up on WhoIs.com. The site was only created on November 17, 2016. This is very recent. The time it would take to thoroughly vet the content of so many "fake news" sights far exceeds the three month window that the website has been active.
Finally, you will notice that the registrar for "FAKENEWSCHECKER.COM" is 1&1 INTERNET SE. When you go to this registrar's website (http://registrar.1and1.info) you discover that the site is registered in Germany or Austria. Check out the flags below for 1&1 Internet SE. The first is Germany and the second is Austria. When you go to these sites the writing is all German. This is odd in my opinion because the owners are both secret and foreign based. I don't have the skills or resources to track this suspicions that this is a Russian cyber-op, but I wouldn't put much faith in the veracity of this site.
ADDENDUM: 2/16/2017 - Here it is just days after I first posted the above article, Donald Trump goes on a tangent impugning the honesty of the press. These rants, along with the political rallies he continues to hold, are red meat to his base. If it is true that Russian covert cyber-operations help influence the election in his favor, as our Intelligence Community has claimed, then is it possible they are still supporting him while in office? Is anyone looking into this? I hope so.