Investigative team Sadbottrue has own technologies for data gathering and for meta-analysis of big data. We focused on findings and explanation of anomalies that influence on the tech companies. We are fighting against the social media and advertising fraud ecosystem.
Profitable info dump
Fake news is just a cover for the ad fraud. This is the most important conclusion that was made in the previous article. The phenomenon of the incredible popularity of low-quality sites with a click-byte header and stolen content is explained very simply.
To earn on ad fraud, you need a very realistic website. But in order to earn a lot on ad fraud, the site must comply with current trends. Imitation of conservative pro-Trump media in 2016 is the most reliable option. This explains the sudden appearance of thousands of popular sites out of nowhere in an election year.
In the first part, we covered the case Fake News publisher Terry Littlepage mentioned in The New York Times. His major asset is the similar media sites with the red header. All of these sites have a huge number of anomalies, impossible for real media.
By all signs, it's not the media for real people, but only an imitation of media for ad fraud. We have studied in detail and described 19 of 33 active sites. Among the other 14 sites, we found a different pattern, the black menu bar with the same quartet of authors who write on all themes.
The most popular of them was Patriot Crier. The site had more than a million visitors in the best months in early 2016. In November, it had just 25,000, and now it has less than 2,000 monthly visitors.
The owner of 2 sites, "President 45 Donald Trump" and "Liberty is Viral", is hidden behind the Domain Privacy Service FBO Registrant, the other 4 is owned by Power to the Publisher LLC.
In fact, this group of sites owned and managed by Mark Blatterfein, founder of "Power publisher". It is associated with more than 60 domains in common. He also holds 5 large and several small conservative facebook pages.
Content on these sites, as well as at Littlepage’s ones, is a blatant theft of articles from major publications. Fresh articles are posted with a delay of two days. If recent articles are not enough, from the database loaded a conserved content. And most often it is just a very old news, published in 2014 - 2016, which are covered here as current events. The only original thing there is just scandalous or conspiracy headers.
Mark and Terry are friends on Facebook. They are using two common dedicated servers. There are located only 5 Littlepage’s domains and 24 Blatterfein’s domains, and no other websites. Most interesting is that 16 of the 24 domains are exact copies of the Patriot Crier, and some of them refer to the December version of the site or even imitate what they were hacked.
Mark began with conspiracy sites. The most popular were "To the Death Media". His previous company was called "We know the secrets of the Fed" as the eponymous website. Now both sites are not updated, and their FB pages post links to other domains. For example, ToTheDeathMedia in 2016 of the post links to Littlepage PatriotCrier.com.
Before the beginning of the democratic and republican debates, November 3, 2015, were created Viralliberty.com and Libertyisviral.com. Now their nominal owner is Domain Privacy Service, but both domains previously owned by Mark's wife Jacqueline Blatterfein.
May 4, when it became clear that Trump has won the primaries, has been created 4 domains, 3 of conspiracy and patriotic one:
The first two have become clones of Patriot Crier, the past two have been actively used.
Before the Democratic Congress, July 23, 2016, were created 3 anti-Hillary sites: Hitlerycuntin.com, Hitleryforprison.com, and Hillary4prisoner.com. Two more provocative domain decided not to use and they have become clones of Patriot Crier, but the third one began a fast rise in 2017.
We do not know what happened on August 17 but on that day appeared a pro-Trump site, president45donaldtrump.com.
Obviously, the registration of new domains is dependent on the changes in the political agenda. They follow the trend, and invariably became popular. Or became the clones of Patriot Crier.
"To the Death Media" was the very successful site with millions of monthly visitors. It reached the Top 20,000 World websites, Top 10,000 in US ranking according to Alexa. It had a six-figure monthly income. In the spring of 2016, its traffic began to fall. Since 23rd December, it is not updated. It was replaced by Viralliberty, which spike came in autumn.
Analyzing advertising fraud you do not need to study each visit to the site. It suffices to consider the behavior patterns of the audience. Besides the leader, another 5 sites have significant traffic. The phenomenon of these sites is that the audience has grown and fallen on two pairs of them totally synchronized.
Full real-time traffic coherence is absolutely impossible at two sites for half a year. When this happens twice it is not just suspicious, it can only be artificial traffic from a single command center.
We see the first rise up to 500,000 at the end of July, gradual decline in the three months to 700,000, and then a sharp drop. In January 2017 traffic again begins to grow rapidly, both sites at the same time reach the top 200,000 and stabilized at the level of 130,000.
Libertyisviral.com also has a very similar pattern of traffic. It reached the top 200,000 in the summer on the first attempt and even came close to the top 100,000.
The second pair: President45donaldtrump.com and Hillary4prisoner.com
The site shows a rise in December to a level of 400,000, followed by a shortstop and another sharp rise, getting into the top 200,000.
The sites have dozens of ad systems, including DoubleClick and Google Adsense, and all their main partners. Was it easy to detect this anomaly for ad systems? Yes, much easier than for us. There is one and the same Google Analytics ID and Publisher ID on these sites. This means that the ad payments comes to the same account. But sites with synchronous stats do not arouse suspicion at anybody.
Other sites have less traffic in tens and hundreds of times, but are similar in the type of content, the same design and promoted via the same FB page.
We see the artificial redistribution of traffic between the sites and the anomalous behavior of the audience. Owners of real media assets can not abandon the site with millions of visits and immediately run 5 clones for the same users of social networks, and moreover, with synchronized traffic.
Popular social pages are the main evidence for the staff analysts approving publisher’s payments. The advertising system does not detect fake traffic if it came from a trusted source, which is currently considered Facebook. Dozens of daily posts, hundreds of shares, thousands of likes, millions of followers. All of this looks very convincing, but only at first glance.
Likes, shares, and followers are an affordable and inexpensive social media engagement services on any digital marketplace. Sellers warrant that the audience can’t be distinguished from real people. Well, if all the stats falsified, then what about the hundreds of comments to popular posts? Many of them are large, detailed and comply with the theme of the article. Does it really mean that these are real people?
Certainly, qualitative comments were written by real people, but on behalf of the false accounts, not expressing their own opinions. It is easy to understand that these are not real people, but only trolls or semi-automatic accounts temporarily controlled by the operator (cyborgs).
The same comment was used repeatedly for different articles. For example, here the same comments on different articles.
In total, this comment was used for more than 20 different articles. 9 from 10 comments are primitive short phrases posted just for enlarge the number. Lengthy comments quickly receive several dozen fake likes, and therefore you see them on the top. Unlikely anyone reads several hundred comments.
Paid comments are also an affordable service. They are more expensive than likes and shares, but they allow to make imitation absolutely reliable.
Everyone who wrote about the fake news wondered how much could earn the owners of such sites. There is no need to calculate pageviews, the number of ads and CPM to understand how much has earned Marc Blatterfein for 3 months of autumn 2016. You just need to look at his FB page.
The first post we need was made on October 27, 2016, we see the building plot on the picture.
The next photo of that place Mark posted less than 3 months later, January 15, 2017.
But the most important thing is in the comments to this post. One of Mark's friends asked him about the main source of income.
Yes, only ads exactly on these sites, allowed Mark to build this house. Among advertisers who pay for dream-house are P&G, Walmart, WSJ, FT, Dell, Microsoft, IBM and other top US brands. Would these brands place their ads on these sites? Regardless of whether they liked it or not, they have already paid for it.
In November 2016, Google has promised to remove the advertising of its customers from fake news sites. This house is the perfect proof how Google and Facebook are really fighting with fake news. Even worse is the fact that neither Google nor the other digital ads companies still haven’t figured out that fake news it just ad fraud.
They both did not do anything against it, and continue to do nothing. The imitation of and cheating of advertisers is the most profitable digital business ever.
The other sad thing, that the reporters from of the real media, who wrote the articles, stolen by these sites, never, even in their wildest dreams wouldn’t be able to become the owners of such a house.
Real media spend millions of dollars to create unique content with own style, focused on usability and an audience retention.
In 21 century, you and any of your friends spoiled by tons of high-quality content and hate advertising. Why are these unfussy people with low incomes click on the most expensive ads? Maybe because digital audience imitation and stealing of ad budget are much easier than you think?
We intentionally have avoided complex technical analysis and sophisticated evidence. The next few articles will be specifically devoted to the technical part of it. This is significant, but not a key component. In order to detect Ad fraud is not necessarily technical education.
Stop listening to those who say that the distinguish a real audience from its artificial imitation can only be technical experts. You see how well they do it right now.