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The Macedonian Fake News Industry and the 2016 US Election

Fri, August 30, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Hilton, Jay

Abstract

During the 2016 US presidential election millions of Americans were exposed to fake news coming from hundreds of political websites. Many of these websites had one thing in common: their IP pointed to a little town in Macedonia called Veles. Who were these malicious actors? What was the reason so many of them originated from Veles? And why were they so successful in disseminating fake news? To answer these questions, we conducted field work in Veles, interviewing several of the town's residents and a few of these disinformation creators. Based on news reports on Veles' fake news industry and our own fieldwork, we found that all roads led to Mirko Ceselkoski, an autodidactic social media expert, who has been the teacher and mentor to Veles' young fake news operators. To understand his role, we also interviewed Ceselkoski himself, and registered, paid and attended his online course, the same course Veles' residents took offline. Our research confirms 1) the pivotal role Ceselkoski had in the creation of this disinformation industry, 2) the economic, non-political. motivation behind their actions, and 3) the manner in which these mostly teen webmasters, who barely speak English, were able to generate so much traffic and disseminate so much disinformation, to a point that it may have swayed the US presidential election outcome.

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