An insider revealed how the distributors of Russian fake news work

“If I can’t convince them of their mistake, I can even make money with them,” said Dmitar, a Bulgarian man who had earned a living from disseminating misinformation and false news at home for years.

The idea made him the administrator of a Bulgarian website that produces fake news. The “they” he mentions are the gullible ones who fall for the disinformation that spreads on the net. It turned out for Dmitar that he had dreamed of an easy way to make money.

He did not give his real name for fear of consequences. He asked the reporter who spoke to him to use a pseudonym.

Dmitar began his disgraceful career in 2015. The Russian annexation of Crimea a year earlier has sparked much controversy in Bulgaria over the country’s relationship with Moscow. Bulgaria has spent four decades in the Soviet sphere of influence.

The way of thinking of some Bulgarians to this day is strongly tied to this stage of the past.

A recent one related to the war in Ukraine survey According to the EU, Bulgarians have the least sympathy for Ukraine and the least inclination to believe that Russia is responsible for the current situation.

According to research, one in ten Bulgarians said they could not sympathize with Ukraine. Only 27 percent of those surveyed were convinced that Russia was responsible for the outbreak of the war.

He was annoyed by the shoreless debate

Seven years ago, in 2015, Dmitar spent a lot of time online. He argued mainly with those who shared fake news on social media. “Those who fell for open disinformation were annoyed,” he said.

I spent countless hours arguing with them, but nothing was used. They just didn’t want to listen. In the meantime, however, I realized what drives them, what narratives they respond to. Then I figured out the solution. If I create a website that feeds them what they want to hear, I can make a lot of money with it.

He developed the concept for his new website. He had no remorse for what harm he could cause. “I’m a small town boy. I knew it wasn’t ethical, but I needed the money. I had a small child at home and I was the only one working. And the money I earned from it was easy to get, ”he recalled starting.

Everyone got what they wanted to read

At first, he expected to be contacted by political actors who would benefit from his website and maybe even tell him what to publish. To his surprise, however, nothing like that happened. All the money came from Google’s advertising system.

Dmitar said he had met several people who had benefited from the distribution. All of their revenue came exclusively from online advertising.

“Politicians who are good at fake news know exactly what people are going to post without paying for it,” he explained. Dmitar’s observations of what attracts people who fall into fake news proved to be a complete hit.

The main topic was Russia. It was usually a narrative about Russia or a contrast between the West and Moscow, with Bulgaria at the center

He told to Deutsche Welle.

From then on, he focused on articles like this. It was a simple formula for writing such articles. He picked up a topic that had just been widely talked about in Bulgaria and then wrote an article about how a Russian politician said Moscow would solve the problems of Bulgarians if they turned their backs on the West and returned to Russia’s motherhood zone.

Nostalgia for the past

“Everything that elicits an emotional reaction attracts readers like a magnet,” Dmitar says. “The government is not treating us well. The nostalgia for the Soviet past, the fact that we lived much better under Soviet rule, well, such articles generated the most traffic. ”

Everything went smoothly until 2019, when British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected the personal data of Facebook users without their consent and used it for political marketing.

Once this was revealed, the social media platform tightened its scrutiny over uploaded content. It was then that Dmitar’s website received the so-called “shadow ban”. Although its website was not banned from Facebook, the platform’s algorithms no longer showed content to users.

“These types of websites live and die from their Facebook traffic,” Dmitar said. He no longer earned as much money as before, so he completely stopped running the portal.

He has now admitted that the messages and disinformation narratives he has been spreading on the net for four years are very far from his own beliefs.

“I didn’t regret it,” he said. However, he finds it depressing that people are so gullible.

It is important for people to recognize misleading information themselves. “Critical thinking is hard. It is much easier to respond emotionally to online content. And a lot of people are abusing that, ”said the former falsifier.

(Cover image: Maxym Marusenko / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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