The National Republican Congressional Committee Gets Into the Fake News Business

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The National Republican Congressional Committee has built a series of fake news site designed to look like local newspapers. The fake sites post critical articles about Democratic politicians in districts where electoral races are happening.

National Journal broke the story, and spoke to the NRCC's communications director, who defended the sites with a pretty admirable deadpan:

"This is a new and effective way to disseminate information to voters who are interested in learning the truth about these Democratic candidates...We believe this is the most effective way to present information to leave a lasting impact on voters."

At the very bottom of each page, there's a disclosure that many readers likely won't see: "Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee."

Clearly, it's scummy of the NRCC to try to mislead people, but it's easy to imagine this particular political hoax backfiring.

The life of a political news story online, particularly political news from an ideologically-inflected site, typically goes like this: someone whose mind is already made up reads an article that confirms their worldview. That first reader shares the article with their peer group. People in their peer group agree or disagree with the article's premise. Some share the article even further.

In this case, if someone were to uncritically share a piece of fake news, it seems likely that at least someone in their peer group would catch the disclaimer at the page's bottom. At minimum, it would discredit the article's claims. At maximum, it might make the original reader change their mind, since they'd been duped by the people they were trying to lobby for. 

And even beyond that -- we already live in a world where there are news sites that hew so closely to an ideological viewpoint that they may as well be sponsored by a political party. Why not leave inflected, badly reported news to the independent sites that are already creating it?