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Trump Propagandists From Macedonia Shy Away From His Victory

A meme from the USA Newsflash Facebook page. USAnewsflash.com is one of the websites registered to a domain user in Macedonia that was recycling fake pro-Trump on the web and social media.

A widely shared meme from the USA Newsflash Facebook page. USAnewsflash.com is one of the websites that have been traced back to Macedonian owners, and is recycling false and sensational pro-Trump ‘news’ on the web and social media.

Much like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, political spammers from Macedonia, who ran hundreds of popular pro-Trump fake news websites and Facebook pages, do not think they had any influence on the US election results.

In June, Global Voices reported how economic hardship pushed the Macedonian town of Veles into seemingly ‘becoming pro-Trump.’ Some residents of this former industrial town opened “news” websites and Facebook pages, with sensational click-bait pro-Trump headlines, to earn money through online ads. These ‘web entrepreneurs’ predominantly published recycled positive stories about Trump and recycled false stories about his opponents. The websites used catchy domain names: UsaNewsFlash.com, 365UsaNews.com, WorldNewsPolitics.com and their accompanying Facebook pages had hundreds of thousands of followers. Many international media outlets covered the story during the following months, including the Guardian, which noted that most of these sites include recycled disinformation from conservative sites and blogs in the US.

After Trump's election victory on November 9, Meta.mk agency, which investigated this story in April, called some of the websites owners. They refused to take credit for Trump's victory:

– Немам никаков коментар за победата на Доналд Трамп на претседателските избори во САД. Не мислам дека имав некакво влијание во победата на републиканскиот кандидат. Со веб-страницата веќе не работам и не знам дали понатаму ќе работам на веб-страници поврзани со политиката во САД – вели еден од младите велешани со кој „Мета“ разговараше и во април годинава.

Со него се согласува и друг велешанец кој вели дека веб-страницата на која тој работел веќе не постои и дека пролетоска последен пат бил објавен напис таму.

“I have no comment on Donald Trump’s win in the presidential elections in the United States. I do not believe I influenced the victory of the Republican candidate. I no longer work on the website and do not know whether I will continue to work on websites related to politics in the US”, said one of the young people from Veles that “Meta” had contacted in April.

Another man from Veles who also worked on multiple websites agreed and said that the web page on which he worked on no longer exists and that the last published article was in Spring.

From the Facebook page of another website linked to an owner in Macedonia. World News Politics has more than 860, 000 followers on Facebook.

From the Facebook page of another website linked to an owner in Macedonia. World News Politics has more than 860, 000 followers on Facebook.

Leading Macedonian new technologies website IT.com.mk commented on Mark Zuckerberg's rejection of the ‘crazy idea’ that Facebook influenced the elections, by drawing parallels with the Macedonian political spamming industry. Instead of putting its users in bubbles or ‘echo chambers,’ Zuckerberg claimed that his social media platform algorithms still enables diverse input of information.

Ваквото рационализирање од првиот човек на Facebook доаѓа откако Buzzfeed и другите медиуми директно го обвинија Facebook за ширење дезинформации и ја посочија и Македонија како делумен виновник, но и откако победата на Доналд Трамп за претседател на САД остави многумина во шок, кои пак сега се обидуваат да објаснат што се случи, и во некои случаи и директно бараат виновник за да посочат со прст.

Марк Закерберг не ја адресираше директно Македонија или македонските е-печалбари, но во контекст на таа тема посочи дека работат на подобрување на алгоритмот и спречување на ширење на дезинформации преку платформата.

По интересот за текстот кој го објавивме вчера, сакаме да потенцираме и дека пред да ги обвините овие корисници кои ние ги нарекуваме е-печалбари за срамотење на Македонија и да ги напаѓате за нивните обиди за печалба, треба да ја погледнете и локалната медиумска сцена од друг агол и ќе забележите дека тие само го реплицираат она што го гледаат на локално ниво од многу медиуми кои дневно ги бомбардираат и им ставаат clickbait линкови и спонзорираат секакви текстови на Facebook, без разлика на колку тоа е етички или не… Го земаат истиот метод и го применуваат на глобално ниво, а разликата е во тоа што на глобално ниво функционирa AdSense и пазарот е многу поголем.

These rationalizations from the first man of Facebook came after Buzzfeed and other media directly blamed Facebook for spreading disinformation and pointed at Macedonia as partial culprit, but also after Donald Trump's election victory shocked many people, who now try to explain what had happened, and in some cases seek for someone to point the finger at.

Mark Zuckerberg did not directly address Macedonia or the Macedonian e-profiteers, but in that context he noted that Facebook works on improvement of their algorithm to prevent spreading disinformation via their platform.

After the interest about the text about the ‘historical contribution’ to development of the Internet we published yesterday, we'd like to stress that even before you start blaming these users we dubbed e-profiteers for shaming Macedonia and attack their attempts to turn profit, you should look the local media scene from another angle. You'll notice that they only replicate what they see at local level, by many media which bombard them on daily basis with clickbait links, media which sponsor all kinds of texts on Facebook, regardless if it's ethical or not… They've taken the same methods and applied it at global level. The only difference is that at global level, AdSense works, and the market is much larger.

Days before the US election, this cottage industry again draw the attention of international media, especially after Buzzfeed covered it through two extensive articles, the first on the fake news production machine and the second on the use of Facebook groups as a spamming platform. Germany's public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle tracked one such website owner, who claimed he's not doing it because he likes Trump, but because publishing articles about him earn him a decent monthly income of about 600 to 1,000 Euros ($665 -$1109).

Photo montage: Trump's Veles. (During Communist times, the name of the town was Titov Veles, meaning Tito's Veles, in honor of Josip Broz – Tito, the Yugoslav commander in chief.)
Tweet: Trololo (Local net slang for political trolling.)

The techniques used by this breed of online publishers are considered “normal” within the Macedonian media scene, and had been perfected over the last ten years by pro-government media outlets and ruling party propagandists under the current right-wing populist regime. Variations of the same strategies have been used elsewhere in the region, notably in Serbia.

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