Why journalism doesn’t work

One of the most important goals of journalism is to identify and highlight important public issues and, through their coverage, begin a discussion to resolve the problem. Sometimes these are hidden processes that harm the whole ecosystem, which journalism can reveal at an early stage in order to avoid serious consequences. This is like an early diagnosis, which allows you to identify deadly diseases at the first sign and prevent it.

But sometimes we see that instead of the truth about a serious illness, the patient is given an easier diagnosis, with very similar symptoms. After a short treatment, the patient may feel healthy. But since the true cause is not eliminated, the disease manifests itself later in a much more severe form.

Also with journalism, problems that are hushed up or misinterpreted, eventually lead to unexpected and even catastrophic consequences.

March 29, 2017, in NYT was published an article Chase Had Ads on 400,000 Sites. Then on Just 5,000. Same Results. by Sapna Maheshwari.

“As of a few weeks ago, advertisements for JPMorgan Chase were appearing on about 400,000 websites a month. ...[Now] JPMorgan has limited its display ads to about 5,000 websites it has preapproved, said Kristin Lemkau, the bank’s chief marketing officer.

JPMorgan started looking into preapproving sites, a strategy known as whitelisting, this month after The New York Times showed it an ad for Chase’s private client services on a site called Hillary 4 Prison. It was under a headline claiming that the actor Elijah Wood had revealed “the horrifying truth about the Satanic liberal perverts who run Hollywood.”

A week later, April 6, was published an article “When a Reporter Breaks the News” by Michael Dailey, news assistant, about where the story began.

“In late February, while investigating the financing of a network of fake news sites, Sapna Maheshwari, a business reporter at The Times, came across a site that looked similar to many others she had seen. It was covered with sensational political headlines and surrounded by ads with lewd, attention-grabbing images, including medical oddities and barely dressed women.

But something caught Ms. Maheshwari’s eye. It was incongruous, even for that medium: an ad for JPMorgan Chase’s Private Client services, displayed among the clickbait links. She captured the mélange in a screen grab and forwarded it to Kristin Lemkau, the bank’s chief marketing officer. [...] Last week, she even tweeted a thank-you to Ms. Maheshwari: “Why journalism works,” she wrote.”

The screenshot was never published by the Times, it was also not specified, which Private Client service was affected.

We can show you the screenshot, which led to the largest revision of digital advertising at the moment. You should not be confused by the absence of a J.P. Morgan logo, this is a co-branded Marriott card emitted by Chase.

This screenshot was made on March 2 at 2:30 pm ET by me, editor Sadbottrue.com Vlad Shevtsov. It was published on March 3 in dataset Profitable info dump. Advertisers. Part Two with other similar screenshots.

It was the new portion of affected brands in addition to the first appendix to ad fraud investigation Profitable Info Dump. It describes in detail how Mark Blatterfein, founder and CEO “Power to the Publisher”, earned on the sites with fake facebook traffic enough to built a custom-designed house in Florida only for 3 months. The investigation and the first part of the dataset with screenshots of ads on the page “Famous actor Elijah…” on Hillary4prisoner.com were published on Sadbottrue.com on February 23.

The next day I received a letter from Sapna Maheshwari, she has expressed the intention to write about it. I sent her a lot of additional information, answered dozens of questions, gave interviews. But after March 23, she did not get in touch. March 29 was published an article “Chase Had Ads on 400,000 Sites. Then on Just 5,000. Same Results”, where Chase ad on Hillary 4 Prison was interpreted as a bad placement instead of the main point of our investigation and additional explanations given to NYT reporter.

We explained in detail that fake news is just a most popular ad fraud scheme at the moment, we uncovered the basic technologies of audience simulation in Facebook, we have clearly shown that this traffic is artificial.

The initial article described the case in an original way was really being prepared. Some newsmakers that NYT asked contacted us, a dozen digital and ad tech companies visited the page with the investigation. Google read it several times in 4 different offices. But the result of a month's study of this case and the entire ad fraud problem was an article about one screenshot and a bad placement.

Our main goal was to change the misconception about this phenomenon prevails in the media. All reporters regard it as an anomaly in social networks that appeared during the election period, but not the most scaled fraudulent scheme, what it actually is.

We are not concerned with issues of morality and journalistic ethics, it is a matter of the professional community. We do not mind the screenshots on which reporters can make a career. The problem is that the investigation exposing multimillion-dollar ad fraud scheme wasn't covered by press.

But even in NYT version, it caused a strong resonance. The story has a lot of reprints and comments. The case starts discussion about how this affects the digital advertising. March 31 Adage asked: Did JPMorgan Chase Just Start A Digital Advertising Revolution? April 4 Randall Rothenberg, President and Chief Executive Officer at IAB, answered: Going Clear! The Digital Ad Industry’s Supply Chain Revolution Just Happened. But there were no other serious steps from the other advertisers or ad tech companies.

Immediately after the publication of our article, Mark Blatterfein closed his facebook account. According to Sapna, he refused to communicate and ignored all requests. This does not seem to be the behavior of an honest publisher, who managed to gain a monthly audience of 6 million by his long hard work.

In the middle of March Mark Blatterfein’s top site had lost 80% of visits.Advertising no longer displayed, apparently, Google suspended his account, although the code of the ad systems remained. Other his sites have lost the audience almost completely. The average number posted links comments on his FB groups decreased by 10 times. But since the beginning of May, Mark Blatterfein begin to promote new clone-sites with dozens of ad systems on his old FB pages. It looks like he waits for his return into the ad supply chain and continues to cheat advertisers as he did before.

But let’s return to the initial case. VISA Marriott card wasn’t the only type of Chase ads displayed there, and Hillary4Prisoner wasn’t the only Blatterfein’s site, where these ads appeared. Here are a couple of the unpublished screenshots.

February 11, 2017, Viraliberty.com

February 19, 2017, President45DonaldTrump.com


The losses of advertisers are not abstract. For the first time, you can see how the money stolen from advertisers look: fake ad views and bot clicks turn into the walls of a very expensive mansion. Each brick in this house is paid from advertising budgets of Walmart, Unilever, IBM, Dell, Chase, and hundreds of other big brands.

Mark Blatterfein, the owner of 'Hillary4prisoner', 'Viralliberty', 'President45Donaldtrump' and other similar sites, made public recognition, that the money was obtained from ads on these sites.

Here is the Adsense/Doubleclick publisher ID: ca-pub-7011409283485533. This account received money from Chase and other advertisers: There is no problem to identify all transactions.

What is the main problem?

Incorrect coverage of the subject allowed other fraudsters to steal advertisers money further. After investigation about Mark Blatterfein, we have exposed Geoff Stupay, the creator of dozens fake news (ad fraud) sites and, at the same time, the founder of two ad tech companies with revenue about $10 million per year.

There is a detailed investigation about how his Supply Side Platform “Lanista Concepts”, integrated into the programmatic ecosystem through the partnership with 8 major ad tech companies, allows to display the most expensive ads of the best advertisers on his ad fraud sites. The example you can see in the screenshot below.

This is the same ad of VISA Marriott Card displayed close to the headline: “Breaking: Donald Trump DIAGNOSED With Mental Illness, could lead to IMPEACHMENT.” But this again is not a bad placement.

March 22, 2017, Realtimepolitics.com, ad fraud site simulating anti-Trump fake news.

In fact, the problem did not even begin to be solved.

Mr. Rothenberg has too early celebrated the victory of advertisers in the digital revolution. Before it really starts, the other industry should be changed significantly. But as long as journalism doesn’t work, the digital advertising will be just a waste of marketing budgets.