News

Fake news biz yields real profits

By Maryanne Firth, St. Catharines Standard

Yaman Abuibaid is photographed at Brock University in St. Catharines on Monday, August 22, 2016. The 16-year-old Denis Morris student and his business partner Dare Adebanjo, both from St. Catharines, created a fake news website that has been generating thousands of dollars in ad revenue every month. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

Yaman Abuibaid is photographed at Brock University in St. Catharines on Monday, August 22, 2016. The 16-year-old Denis Morris student and his business partner Dare Adebanjo, both from St. Catharines, created a fake news website that has been generating thousands of dollars in ad revenue every month. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

Yaman Abuibaid and Daré Adebanjo are in the business of making headlines — literally.

The two St. Catharines teens have turned a sizable profit concocting fake news articles that have been drumming up attention online.

Their website, HotGlobalNews.com, has been gaining traction since its creation in late 2014.

While it began as a source to display bogus celebrity gossip, the pair quickly learned last October that there exists a sweet spot online for fictitious political reads.

It was during election season that the website’s popularity skyrocketed thanks to a phony story about Justin Trudeau promising to build marijuana stores in every Canadian city.

Since that time, many of the site’s stories have focused on the prime minister, often connecting him to pot or Donald Trump in one way or another.

The viral hoax that has covered the most ground suggests Trudeau has banned Trump from entering Canada.

It has yielded more than 300,000 social media shares.

So how does one get into the fake news business?

It was tabloid queen Kim Kardashian that first inspired Abuibaid to test the hoax waters.

Chatting in a school lunchroom with friends about what he felt was an obviously-fake article about the reality TV star, he came to realize how easily people buy into what they read on the web.

“I thought to myself, damn. (Fake news sites) must make a lot of money.”

When fellow techie and longtime friend Adebanjo recommended the pair band together to put their computer prowess to work, they realized there was potential for a successful business venture.

While creating click bait, and squirrelling away the resulting ad revenue, may be fun for some, Abuibaid, 16, and Adebanjo, 19, are beginning to learn it may not come without consequence.

After being featured in an article on the popular website Buzzfeed last month, the teens saw significant backlash for their hobby.

There were questions about libel, lashings at their character and assumptions they would someday be brought to court for their creations.

“It was hard to hear,” Abuibaid said. “But I don’t blame them.”

“I never saw it as a harmful thing before,” the Denis Morris Catholic High School student said, adding he’s since put more thought into the impact putting his online words can have.

People took particular aim at an article written by a freelancer to the website, which claimed Justin Trudeau was abusive to wife Sophie.

The article has since been removed, as well as several others.

“At first, it really seemed harmless to us, what we wrote about,” said Abuibaid, who is starting Grade 11. “We’re not scamming people for their money. It’s just ad clicks.”

But the recent events have the two tech whizzes rethinking their online strategy.

“Daré and I are really questioning things,” Abuibaid said on behalf of his business partner.

They’ve taken the disclaimer, which labels the site’s content as satire, from the bottom of the page to the very top to make it more visible to readers.

They’re also putting more thought into every article before it hits the web to make sure it’s not crossing their own self-imposed ethical line.

“Now, we’re trying to post actual funny news instead of hoaxes,” Abuibaid said.

One of the site’s most recent stories claims Canada’s leader will star in the latest Star Wars flick as an avid marijuana-user who pressures Yoda and Luke Skywalker to give the drug a try.

“We tried to make it funny,” he said. “We’re trying to write articles like (satirical website) The Onion.”

Despite the latest controversy, Abuibaid has not been swayed from continuing to pursue his passion for computers.

After high school graduation, he intends to join Adebanjo at Carleton University for computer science. Adebanjo is entering his second year of the program in the fall.

While website design is always likely to remain a hobby, Abuibaid believes his future lies in app development.

He’s hopeful profits from the website will support his education.

With momentum now behind the website, Hot Global News is drawing in an average $4,000 a month in ad revenue, Abuibaid said.

About 10 per cent each month is reinvested into Facebook ads, and much of the remainder goes into savings.

mfirth@postmedia.com



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