Tuesday 17 October 2017

Facebook 'being paid for hoax ads about stars'

A screengrab of a hoax advert on a Facebook newsfeed
featuring 'Apprentice' star Alan Sugar. Other similar ads claimed Queen Elizabeth was dead Photo: PA
A screengrab of a hoax advert on a Facebook newsfeed featuring 'Apprentice' star Alan Sugar. Other similar ads claimed Queen Elizabeth was dead Photo: PA

Alastair Reid

Facebook is promoting paid-for hoaxes about Queen Elizabeth, Professor Stephen Hawking and Alan Sugar to users despite recent promises to crack down on fake news, a Press Association investigation has found.

The world's biggest social network was found to be taking money from hoaxers who place the misleading adverts in the right column of newsfeed, where it is less clear to users how to block or report them.

When made aware of the hoax adverts, a Facebook spokesman said the company works "constantly to reduce any type of misinformation".

One such advert claims 'Apprentice' star Mr Sugar was "out of control" and featured an apparently manipulated picture of the Amstrad founder with bruises on his face.

Facebook users who clicked the advert were taken to a page made to look like 'The Sun' newspaper website, in which Mr Sugar is quoted as supporting a money-making scheme.

"The claims made in these advertisements are baseless and entirely false," said Andrew Bloch, Mr Sugar's spokesman, adding that the business magnate is aware of the adverts and is working on "legal remedies".

The advertised scheme promises earnings of $50,000 to $200,000 per week and uses stock footage of a high-flying lifestyle and actors in its promotional material. It has been widely derided as a scam by internet users.

The discovery of the adverts comes as the social network makes high-profile efforts to tackle misinformation on the platform. Last week the network unveiled another new initiative in a "multi-pronged strategy" to tackle the issue - offering users advice for spotting hoaxes that appear in their newsfeeds.

Fred Stonehouse, a mature student at Portsmouth University, has seen the Sugar advert appear on two separate occasions in the sponsored section of his Facebook newsfeed.

"The reason I noticed it is because Facebook's tips for spotting false news were at the top of my feed," he said.

"I didn't actually click on it as it looked dodgy as hell. It's clearly fake and you can tell by the web address that it's not a normal site."

Another hoax advertisement recently promoted in Facebook's "sponsored" section claims "The Queen Has Died".

The accompanying web address takes users to a page made to look like Facebook, and text which urges users to call a phone number or risk having their computer infected with a virus.

The phone number and page have been flagged as a scam in numerous online forums.

Irish Independent

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