Fake news site gains more than 1M views in less than 2 weeks
© screenshot

A 28-year-old Costa Rica resident started a fake news website in February as a joke and ended up with more than 1 million page views a week and a half later, PolitiFact reported.

James McDaniel started the website UndergroundNewsReport.com on Feb. 21 and told PolitiFact his goal was to find out how easily people were convinced by the wild stories he created.

McDaniel said he made $615 from advertisements on the website, which he plans to donate to the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. PolitiFact first found the website via its effort with Facebook to combat fake news on the social media site.

Some of McDaniel's headlines include, "Bombshell: WikiLeaks leaks ‘lost’ Clinton email," "Man pardoned by Obama 3 months ago arrested for murder" and "Whoopi Goldberg: Navy SEAL Widow was ‘Looking for Attention.’”

ADVERTISEMENT
McDaniel said he often made the stories up entirely, other times he would connect the headline to something happening in the news that day.

"I think that almost every story I did, or at least the successful ones, relayed off of things that Trump supporters already believed. Obama is a Muslim terrorist. Hillary [Clinton] is a demonic child trafficker," McDaniel told PolitiFact. "These are things much more widely believed among Trump supporters than I had previously thought.”

"I was surprised by how gullible the people in the Trump groups were, but as I continued to write ridiculous things they just kept getting shared and I kept drawing more viewers," McDaniel added.

McDaniel told PolitiFact he tried to warn readers with a disclaimer at the bottom of stories declaring that they were “fiction, and presumably fake news” — but said many still accepted them as fact. Others emailed him with questions to verify the legitimacy of the stories.

He also wrote a post on the website explaining the point of the fake news website. In a reflection on the experience, he lamented about the readers who were so quick to accept his made-up stories as real.

"I was startled that in today’s world, so many could be so willfully ignorant. 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," he wrote in the explainer post. 

He said that after he wrote a fake story about Goldberg criticizing the widow of the Navy SEAL killed in the Yemen raid in January, and saw the comments taking the story seriously and criticizing Goldberg’s disrespect, he knew he had to stop.

"I might have carried on a bit longer because I was having fun," McDaniel wrote, "but people took the Whoopi Goldberg story so seriously and it had gotten so big I thought I had better pull the plug."