Skip to content

How Fake News is the trending & booming dark net business

The birth of “fake news”

Fake news, WhatsApp forwards and social media posts are evolved versions of Nigerian scam emails that boomed in the mid-1990s. Such emails would typically be about a pot of gold or a million dollar lottery that the recipient won. It further insisted the reader provide his/her information so that the sweepstakes win could be transferred to him. Although many would have found such emails amusing, there were scores who indeed feel prey to such scams!

Over time, victims of Nigerian email scams have significantly reduced. But, its modern version of fake news and videos is successfully continuing its legacy of cheating innocent people! This has been fueled by the increasing popularity of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media and messaging platforms.

The era of the Internet and the millennials

We use technology as a benchmark of the progress of human civilization. And unfortunately, it is the same technology which is pulling it apart! Our affinity for the Internet has made us more connected to objects/events of the virtual world than the real ones. This makes the current generation of millennials more susceptible to such fake and baseless news circulated online.

Often called clickbait, such links are replete with the words “Breaking” or “Shocking”. This is enough grab people’s growing interest in a story or a global disaster. This hunger for spicy and sensational stories more often than not robs them of their rationality. And scammers leverage this thirst of the ardent followers of the virtual world to make money by fooling them.

Clickbait – An easy trap for the gullible humans

Clickbait has currently become the most lucrative business for miscreants in the virtual world. Some of the popularly shared bogus WhatsApp forwards or Facebook posts may only qualify as laughable rhetoric for most. However, we often fail to realize the grave outcomes such news may have on a nation like India with about 355 million Internet users!

A recent research conducted in Washington has shed light on the current valuation and outreach of this business. Services for creation and sharing of fake news through ‘look-alike’ news websites start at under 10 USD. Researchers have uncovered about 2800 ‘live spoof’ sites that resemble legitimate news organizations.

Worse still, ‘DIY toolkits’ for the creation of ‘look-alike’ fake news is now readily available to the public in Holland. That too for as low as 7 USD!!! Such toolkits are given out on a trial basis to let miscreants get a hang of how to control social media bots. So now one can well imagine where the human civilization is headed to!

The aftermath of fake news

Derogatory news about an individual not only inflicts mental trauma but also results in social stigma. It is utterly unfair and inhuman to play with emotions, especially when the event involves the loss of human lives. One must realize that sharing bogus and unverified news can have severe negative connotations. Right from creating unnecessary panic to causing loss of precious human lives by triggering communal violence.

Often such news is targeted at political figures to disrupt election campaigns or their public image. And, its use in politics is one of the current biggest threats to our world and democracies. By allowing it to exist and spread, we are arming the malicious anti-national forces with a vicious weapon. And this weapon can be used to inflict severe damage on our communities, nations and political systems.

Retailers are also a common target of the fake news business. A service has been unearthed that offers Amazon ranking, reviews, votes, listing optimization and selling promotions. The rates start from 5 USD for an unverified report to 500 USD for a monthly retainer! Most of these services are hosted on the “dark web” which makes it even more difficult to keep track of such perpetrators.

The word “fake news” makes it to the Collins Dictionary

The year 2017 saw a sharp rise in the incidents and reporting of fake news. In fact, it is even said to have influenced President Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections. The widespread use of this word has caused the Collins Dictionary to added “fake news” in its list of ‘Words of the year 2017’. Not just that, it has declared it as the “Ultimate Word of the Year”!

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 – The floating plane video

The mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in March 2014 sent shock waves all over the globe. Suddenly, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was all that people were talking about. There were theories and hypotheses of all kinds as to what could have brought the metal bird down. While no theory was healing enough for the traumatized and grieving kin of the ill-fated passengers, there were some insensitive folks who utilized this opportunity to make some money!

How many of you remember the video showing the floating body of the plane popping up on your Facebook page? Remember the headline accompanying the video?

“Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 found in the sea with about 50 alive passengers” or even “Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 found in the Bermuda Triangle”!!

And very easily, the post did the trick that it was intended to! The result? Scores of people had their judgment blurred that the unbelievably pristine condition of the flight in the image was too good to be true and ended up clicking on the links.

Here’s the real story.

On clicking, users were asked to share a “Pray for MH370” Facebook group page. This, in turn, had a link to a fake and look alike CNN page! Some users were lead to a survey page which was in fact meant to generate affiliate cash for the scammers. Thus a video that you found sensational was actually a link to spam blogs, imitation news sites, and survey scams.

Filling in a fake survey can possibly make you a victim of identity theft as scammers then sell this information to third parties for a hefty sum. More often than not, such links may also be associated with malware and ransomware. This can make you vulnerable to data thefts and other unconceivable damages.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 – The Taiwan Story

2 years after the incident, which continued to remain an unsolvable mystery, a new story resurfaced. This time it was another news site claiming that the pilot of the missing flight was found alive in a serious condition in Taiwan! The news was yet another clickbait that covered the exact emotions that would make people anxious to read and share it. And as expected, it succeeded in fooling a number of people around the globe yet again!

While no amount of empathy for the kith and kin of the passengers of the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 would be sufficient, fake news such as these only deepen the wounds inflicted by the true incident on them.

Tracing the gullibility of Indians

When in September 2016, Mukesh Ambani launched an ultra-cheap mobile network service, Jio, India saw millions coming online for the first time. According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 report, India’s data usage increased six-fold between June 2016 and March 2017.

WhatsApp is the most preferred mode of virtual communication in India, hence much of bogus news here is spread through WhatsApp. And with millions of first-time users added to the virtual world owing to affordable data plans, one can well assume the rationality with which such fake news would be judged! This makes them more susceptible to be gullible towards such false rumors.

Indian Stories

Right after demonetization, many of you would remember the rumor of the new 2000 notes containing a GPS tracking nano-chip? Its potential was that it could help trace hidden notes to a depth of 390 feet below the ground!! Ridiculous isn’t it? But there were thousands who bought this fake news!

The ridiculous fake news in South India in February 2017 about the measles and rubella vaccine allegedly making the recipients sick actually ended up spoiling the government’s immunization drive.

The fatal repercussions that such news can have would be evident from the several lynching and deaths that took place in a village in Jharkhand, India, after social media and WhatsApp was abuzz with news of child abductors.

False rumors can easily trigger communal tensions in a nation like India with its staunch supporters of Hinduism. Holding testimony to this is the recent incident which sparked off severe hatred among Indians against the Muslim Rohingya. This was triggered by the circulation of images showing Hindus in Burma being attacked by Rohingya Islamic Terrorists.

Steps to curb promotion of fake news

After the recent US Presidential Elections, Twitter and Facebook faced heavy backlash for their role in swaying voters by allowing the spread of fake news. Subsequently, Google and Facebook framed policies for putting tabs on ads posted on fake news sites. Recently, Facebook also carried out campaigns through posts and videos on how to spot fake news.

Also, some good Samaritans comprising journalists, software geeks and people from various other backgrounds are also coming together in groups. They are setting up fact-checking websites for busting the myths circulating in the digital world.

However, keeping the logical side of our brains active at all times is all that it takes to prevent the spread of false news to a great extent!

In the league of busting fake news – Texial

Analysts have projected the number of social media users around the globe by 2019 to about 2.77 billion. Therefore, ensuring a zero possibility of fake news circulation is a far cry from the ground reality. Social media and messaging platforms are regularly updating their policies to curb the spread of misleading information. However, the gullible human race with its thirst for salacious content shall not stop falling for such scams anytime soon.

Texial, headquartered in Chennai, specializes in digital and cyber forensic investigation. Although a newcomer in the forensic domain, they have already set high standards in carrying out extensive forensic investigations for busting cyber crimes. With a state-of-the-art forensic lab at their disposal and experts from premier forensic institutes, one can be certain that no stone is left unturned during the investigations.

Enroll in a Ethical Hacking Boot Camp and earn one of the industry’s most respected certifications — guaranteed.

-Live online ethical hacking instruction
– Exam Pass Guarantee
– CEH exam voucher

Related courses

  • Texial Certified Hacker
  • Certified Ethical Hacker
  • SOC Certifcation

Defend your business against
the Latest Cyber Threats

share it