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This Recent College Grad Made $22K Off a Fake News Site

There is no doubt “fake news” is a particular brand of disinformation that was extremely popular during the election. It was spread via Facebook, Twitter and even by the president-elect himself (and his possible Cabinet members). As BuzzFeed reported, on Facebook, it outperformed actual news (the type supported by facts and evidence). It is probable this sort of disinformation could have affected the election and swayed uneducated and uninformed voters to vote against their best interests, according to the Intercept.

The New York Times recently reported on one case of disinformation that may or may not have had an effect on the outcome of the election. Cameron Harris, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Davidson college who majored in political science and economics major was the culprit. With the real world and its expenses looming, he had to think of some way to afford a life. He was looking to build a political consulting business, but had to do something in the meantime—and what better to do than become an internet entrepreneur.

He crafted a website and a story, one he knew would shake the ground up. The story’s headline? “Tens of Thousands of Fraudulent Clinton votes found in an Ohio Warehouse.” He made up quotes from an imagined character, Randall Prince, who had allegedly found the made-up ballots. He made sure to spell out the significance of this imaginary find to all who might read it, explicitly writing that the ballots could sway Ohio’s vote toClinton. He then put it up on his new website, ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, and promoted it on several Facebook pages he created just for that purpose. It was eventually shared with approximately 6 million people.

By the next day, Ohio’s Franklin County had announced it was investigating, and concluded the claim of fraudulent voters were untrue. Ohio’s Secretary of State even released a statement regarding the disinformation, denying the article. However, Harris had already had his cash cow. A few days worth of ads got him $5,000. He created other false stories, such as one on Clinton’s divorce, and one on an underage sex ring run by Bill Clinton. As the scheme continued, he eventually made $22,000, the Times reports. A Trump supporter, Harris eventually lost this revenue stream when Google stopped placing ads on “fake news” sites, meaning he could no longer make money off his site.

This is not the first time falsities about Trump have found its way into the mainstream, possibly shifting views and election results. Other fake news bloggers have said the same thing as Harris—that they were motivated by money, not politics. Facebook, one of the major disseminators of disinformation, has said they will roll out a plan to decrease the amount of disinformation spread on the social media site

After the release of the Times article, Harris was fired from his job as an aide to a Maryland lawmaker. He then issued this statement about the Times article on Twitter, saying he’s not interested in the business of fake news anymore.

He says he wants to “be allowed to contribute my informed experience to a larger dialogue about how Americans approach the media, tough issues, and the manner in which we, collectively, will inform our decisions going forward.” How about a larger dialogue about what people are willing to do to make $20,000?

Dream McClinton is a graduate (!) of Georgia State University with a degree in Journalism with a concentration in Telecommunication. Her interests include creating visual art (of all types), watching reality television and traveling. She hopes to soon acquire enough money to pay off her student loans and build a life she loves.