Fake news is a huge problem on social networking, for unwittingly encouraging narratives that are not real, and Facebook, in particular, has taken a ton of heat.
I first noticed the trend when a seemingly legit narrative about Conor McGregor appeared as a tweet that was promoted on my timeline. It was made by @ESPNUFC (for the record, the actual ESPN report for UFC news is @ESPNMMA), and had an ESPN symbol, some professional photography, and also a hyperlink to some narrative about Conor McGregor and HGH use.
The site looks like ESPN, and contains the byline of a (fake) ESPN writer, but you only have to read several paragraphs before you recognize it’s not really the popular sports website. It’s an ad for a bogus musclebuilding scam called AlphaTren. The story alleges that he’s so buff and can recuperate quickly after bouts and that the supplement is being used by Conor McGregor. Then, the narrative offers subscribers a limited time offer to get it.
The bogus story appeared within my timeline again two days ago. A quick Twitter search suggests that it’s not only been floating about on the social network for a while, but that it’s actually been in Twitter’s promotional plan since December 3rd, which means that for more than a month the storyline was being populated in users’ timelines, complete with a fake ESPN profile and picture.
The narrative itself isn't unique. It’s merely one form of a favourite subject for scam stories that stretches back more than annually. A lot of those narratives also used imitation ESPN site layouts too and appeared in advertorial time slots on some different sites.
The difference here is the fact that disgusting promotional plugs for merchandises that are sketchy and the obviously untrue narratives aren’t being put in an obvious advertising time slot — which many web veterans already view with a lot of agnosticism that is earned — but in their Twitter timeline having an ESPN emblem and handle. From the tweet that is boosted, you’d never realise that it’s not ESPN, although the profile isn’t verified. It is being promoted by Twitter anyway.
In the 48 hours since the second promoted tweet appeared on my very own timeline the account has vanished, though it’s not clear whether Twitter eventually realized what was going on or if the account’s month of paid promotion just ran out and those running it shut it down to bring it back afterwards. We’ve reached out for opinion to Twitter but have. It ’s probably best to simply not click on anything around the net ever again, simply to be safe.