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Could Fake News End The World? How A Crooked Ad Set Off A Firestorm

Persuasion and influence often presents us with gray areas. Should I do this? Does this go too far? Ethical marketers and copywriters refuse to cross the line of decency. Shady ones employ lies, deception and predatory tactics to compete.

Something disturbed me and I need to share it. While scrolling through Facebook today I came across what I thought was an editorial by Marc Cuban. I clicked.

In the upper left of the screen (on my mobile phone) I saw the familiar Forbes magazine layout. Surprise! The Forbes design was just a ruse. A peak at the website url proved this. I landed on some other website with a sketch “.io” extension. They stole the Forbes intellectual property. I get it. They needed credibility. Since they had none, they stole it. That was a clear signal me that something was off. Unfortunately, it was not a signal to the vast majority.

Still curious, I read through the ad. It was a blatant pitch to sell some kind of money making info product. It was written as if Cuban wrote it himself. The piece was filled with grammatical errors and typo’s. The writer talked down to the reader (a big no-no in copywriting). In short, an amateur effort. Anyone who’s ever watched Shark Tank knows Cuban would never give his stamp of approval on such work.

What bothered me more than the lies and deception were the comments. At the time of this writing there were about one thousand comments. I scrolled through most of them. I would estimate that at least 95% of the commentors believed this was the real thing. They believe Cuban himself penned this article to sell his $99 money making product. Comment after comment trashed him for pushing some snake oil like money making crap. Others blasted him for squeezing regular people for $99 when he’s already worth billions. A few intelligent souls saw the ad for what it was, FAKE. Few paid attention. Many of the comments that blasted Cuban evolved into more back and forth conversations about Cuban and billionaires constantly fleecing the middle class.

So, what do we do about it? I felt it was my duty to report what was not only fake news but obvious false advertising and misrepresentation. When I opened the options window in Facebook I saw that I could hide this ad and all future ads from this sponsor. There was no option, however, to report this as an obvious fraud.

Although not exactly fake news (just fake advertising), you can see the danger lurking. This post clearly stated “sponsored ad” in full view of the reader. The slightest bit of research would have uncovered the fraud. Still, at least 95% of the people who read it thought it was legit.

Sure, this company was just peddling some $99 money making crap. The harm may be minimal here. How easy would it be to do the same thing to motivate someone to do something worse, even violent? I don’t have an answer to this threat. Urging vigilance to the billion people on social media is impractical. Making the the sites that host these ads more accountable may help but there’s danger in that too.

A few hours after writing this article I noticed the ad disappeared. Justice, right? Not so fast. A few hours later when I scheduled it on Medium I noticed it was back… under a new website.

I know you might be curious to see this ad for yourself. I thought about posting the link but then that would provide this site with undeserved exposure.

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Barry Davret

Work in Forge | Elemental | BI | GMP | Others | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com. Join Medium for full access: https://barry-davret.medium.com/membership