What happens when professional journalists are no longer needed?
Image: Silke Remmery/Flickr
Facebook and Google are clamping down on the spread of fake news in the wake of the US presidential election, but now a website that publishes stories appealing to "alt right" white nationalism appears to be crowdsourcing "reporters" from online marketplaces to write content of questionable veracity.
Advertisements attributed to Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform, which is essentially a marketplace where businesses can request users to carry out online computing tasks like filling out surveys or transcribing data, have called for writers for "news articles for a new conservative news website".
One such advert, seemingly posted by a conservative news website called The Goldwater, offered $5 per article. The articles should be written "in the style" of right-leaning media firebrands Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos—and if you're not familiar with those three men, then the job "is not for you," the advert states.
"At times, we may give you a conspiracy theory to write about. Roll with it!" the advert adds. "You are a reporter now!"
Another such advert, known as an HIT (Human Intelligence Task) in MTurk lingo, called for an article to be written with the headline, "Predictable: First Lesbian Bishop of Stockholm Boots Out Christ and Welcomes Mohammed", based on an article in Lionheart News—a website run by racist British organisation Britain First. Another HIT request sought out an article defending Vice President-elect Mike Pence and concerning a Trump supporter yelling "fuck you" at the cast of Hamilton.
Online labor advocate Rochelle LaPlante, who first spotted these HITs, told Motherboard on Monday that one of the downsides of MTurk is that workers have to work blindly, "not knowing who they're completing tasks for or how the completed work will be used."
"When objectionable HITs are posted, there is a link on the HIT for workers to report it to Amazon, but there is no follow up from Amazon with the worker on what action is taken, if any," LaPlante said.
"I reported the HITs last night using that report button, but there's no way for me to know if Amazon saw and removed it before it was completed by workers, or if Amazon has taken any action against the requester's account."
The HITs aren't available to view anymore, and LaPlante said there's no way of knowing if Amazon removed them, or if they were accepted/completed by workers. But the articles which were requested on MTurk have appeared on The Goldwater over the past 24 hours.
Amazon did not respond to Motherboard's repeated requests for comment prior to this article's publication.
While The Goldwater may have a hard time convincing readers it is a legitimate news site, it's still worth pondering the potential employment of "digital workers" in the future of fake news content. It takes no official requirements or journalistic integrity to scrawl a few exaggerated words regarding a fake news story, and the purported adverts flagged by LaPlante were offering more money than many other HITs that Motherboard saw on the platform. But for the recruiter, $5 per article would yield a significant return on investment with the likely popularity of such an article and its eventual advertising revenue.
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