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The Macedonian connection

It may sound like a script for a shitty movie about a conspiracy against democracy. Some youngsters from a small town flood another country's election campaign with lies, affecting events at the other side of the world, and contributing to the election victory of a radical underdog candidate for whom far fewer people would have voted otherwise. A true triumph of crappy fiction over sensible reality, right?

Except that story is not so far away from the truth. Meet Veles, a town in remote Macedonia. Population: 40 thousand people… and 140 websites dedicated to "Trump". DonaldTrumpNews.com, USConservaiveToday,com, TrumpVision365.com, etc. Even reading just the headlines would cause your heart rate to go up, and I'm sure the articles there must have fired up Trump's base quite a bit. Examples: "Hillary Clinton worships Satan and directs a secret paedophile ring", "These documents from 1995 say the truth about Obama", "How the government is trying to eliminate Julian Assange", etc. These fake news circled the world a hundred times before the truth could put its shoes on, thanks to the power of the social networks. They bolstered Trump's popularity and earned him voters. And to their authors they brought lots of cash. Because the websites that published those fake news make their revenue from clicks and shares on the social networks. The more clicks and shares, the more revenue from ads. As for the content, it doesn't matter that much. The clicks were what mattered.

The lads who created those websites didn't even care about Donald Trump that much. They just wanted to make some money. They had been doing this job for quite a while, and when suddenly people started giving a damn about Trump, they sniffed an opportunity and jumped in like sharks on prey. The town of Veles in Macedonia has been hosting such websites for years. In the beginning those websites were mostly dealing with healthy diets, selling second-hand cars and sports items, because that sort of trade tends to bring the most clicks around the Internet search engines. So when the US election began to heat up and get into full gear, the industrious entrepreneurs from Veles quickly realized any Trump-related "news" would bring them a lot of clicks. Consequently, in less than a month they made more money than their parents had earned for a whole year. Some estimates point to at least half a million euro of monthly revenue in that period.

The information was junk in most cases, but that didn't matter to them. What mattered was that it was getting read by lots of people. Which meant money would flow in. Some of the fake news headlines were even being crafted on the go. Many were copied from various right-wing, extremist, populist and conspiracy websites like Breitbart, whose chairman Steve Bannon is now Trump's chief advisor. As perverse as that may sound, it's true. The post-truth era is now being actively enforced by the upcoming commander in chief, and his administration.

All that said, this was most likely not a concerted effort, or a propaganda campaign commissioned by someone in the US (Trump's campaign was actually not involved) – rather, it was solely done with an entrepreneurial purpose. After Trump rose on the political scene it soon became obvious that his supporters preferred news from untested sources, and would often end up believing in conspiracy theories. So the lads in Veles figured this was a big chance they couldn't miss. The rest is history.

Source: Talk politics.

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