Flood of Fake Conservative News Sites Targets NC

The Columbia Journalism School has been investigating the proliferation of “local news” sites that are mostly machine generated, authored by free-lancers in Africa or the Philippines, and generously sprinkled with hard-fine far-right extremist talking points on nixing public education or supporting Trump policies.

The researchers, outline their findings and methodology in a new article.

On the surface, the sites seem to have no apparent connection to each other, but the researchers found links between them with IP address registrations and shared analytics IDs. Altogether, there are at least 450 of these sites targeted at local communities around the country or specialized interests, such as farmers or attorneys.

Who’s behind these sites? What are they?

The owners and operators of the sites are connected with entities that have been sanctioned by the Federal Elections Commission for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Conservative businessman Brian Timpone is one of the big players here. His companies include Local Government Information Services, Metric Media, Franklin Archer, Locality Labs (aka LocalLabs) and Record, Inc. Timpone was profiled on “This American Life” in 2012, where he outlined how he outsourced his “local” US news reporting to Philippines, Eastern Europe, Brazil, and Africa. He even created a fictitious high school newspaper for an Illinois high school and was sued by the school for violating trademark law.

Another figure in this misinformation campaign is Illinois-based conservative talk show host Dan Proft and his Liberty Principles political action committee. Chicago news outlets have covered how Timpone and Profit created fake hyper-local Chicago online news outlets.

CJR found at least 46 of these fake conservative local news sites operating here in North Carolina. If you take a look at them, they’re often republishing content and talking points from Art Pope’s network of think tanks and columnists. I’ve seen articles from some of these outlets, such as the High Country Times, shared by conservatives on Facebook and social media. If you're not paying close attention, it's easy to mistake them for a new local newspaper you hadn't heard about or confuse them with a genuine local news outlet because some of the names are similar. In addition, since the network produces the same or similar conservative content, they flood Google search results with pro-right wing propaganda on local and state issues, drowning out factual local journalism.

There are probably more fake news sites in this local network - the list below just highlights the local fake news outlets.

As we approach the 2020 election, we need to be on guard to see how they’re being used by the NC GOP, individual GOP candidates, and conservative moneybags like Art Pope.

Update: I've added links to the Facebook pages for these sites.

Another thing to keep in mind - none of these sites have any advertising or offers for fee subscriptions. It's pretty obvious they're being paid for by campaigns, parties, or political action committees as misinformation tools. Of course, they might add banner ads at some point to look more legit.

Someone with the NC Democrats might want to dig a bit on this to see if it violates some campaign finance or transparency laws or NC laws about misrepresentation or false advertising by businesses.

Asheville Reporter. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Burlington Reporter. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Cabarrus Today. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Chapel Hill Review
Durham Reporter
EC North Carolina News. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
East Lake Norman News. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
East Wake Times. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Fayetteville Today. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Foothills Review. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Gastonia Times. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Greensboro Reporter. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Greenville Reporter. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Hickory Sun. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
High Country Times. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
IBX News. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Johnston Reporter. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
NC North Carolina News
NE Piedmont News
Nantahala News. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
North Carolina Business Daily. - FB Page (created 6/28/2019)
North Charlotte Today
North Guilford News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
North Iredell News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
North Mecklenburg News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
North Raleigh Today
North Triangle News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
North Wake News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Old North News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Onslow News. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
Outer Banks Times. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Pinehurst Today. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Randolph County News
Rocky Mount Today. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Rowan News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
SE North Carolina News
South Asheville News
South Charlotte Today
South Guilford News. FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
South Mecklenburg News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
South North Carolina News
South Raleigh News
South Triangle News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
South Winston Salem News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Union News
West Lake Norman News. - FB Page (created 9/19/2019)
West Wake News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)
Winston Salem Times
Yadkin Valley News. - FB Page (created 9/23/2019)

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Comments

Thanks for this

I suggest everybody bookmark this diary, so when you come across somebody Tweeting or Facebooking an article, you can see if it's on this list without opening the page. I never share an article without reading it first, but that's also a good way to pick up a malware virus.

It's long past time the FCC cracked down on sites like these. I'm not a big fan of censorship, but you gotta draw the line somewhere.

Updated with Facebook page links

I added as many of them as I could find. Notice how they were all created within a few days of each other.