By Don Reisinger
May 30, 2017

Fake news isn’t only a political problem, if a new report is any indication.

Dozens of fake news sites have cropped up on the Internet that are creating artificial and unflattering news articles about small businesses, BuzzFeed is reporting after investigating the matter. Those sites are crafting content that goes viral on social media and ultimately hurts their targets’ businesses, according to the report.

In one case, BuzzFeed found an alleged fake-news site called Channel23News. The site had written articles about a London Indian restaurant named Karri Twist that saw its business drop in half. After receiving “hundreds” of calls about complaints of selling human meat, the restaurant’s owner Shrina Begum investigated. Begum ultimately discovered that Channel23News had published articles falsely claiming that the restaurant was selling human meat and its owner had been arrested, according to BuzzFeed.

But by then, the damage was done. The articles went viral on Facebook and Twitter and Begum was forced to cut staff hours to save costs as patronage declined.

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Fake news has played a prominent role in American politics over the last several months after reports surfaced about how fake news was disseminated across social media to influence the 2016 presidential election. Facebook has since responded to the outcry the fake news epidemic caused by hiring staffers to monitor news on the site and reduce the likelihood of users stumbling across fake content.

Companies have been targeted in the past, including once in December, when a fake news story falsely reported that a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington held young children as sex slaves for a child-abuse cartel operated by former Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Still, while much of the focus on fake news has centered on politics, the BuzzFeed report suggests that small businesses are also in the crosshairs and even those companies’ neighbors could be targeting them.

According to BuzzFeed, the fake news sites it found, including Channel23News, allow users to create their own “prank” stories. In a matter of minutes, users can write a fake news story, add an image, and ship off that content to social media.

Over the past year, fewer than 30 sites BuzzFeed discovered that allow for “pranks” had published more than 3,000 articles. In that period, those stories garnered more than 13 million interactions—including shares and comments—on Facebook alone, according to BuzzFeed.

In an interview with the Channel23News founder, a person who goes by ht name Korry Tye, BuzzFeed found that he created the site for “fun.” Tye added that most people use the sites for “pranks about their schools or their coworkers,” and said that whenever it’s abused, he immediately takes down offending content. Most of his site’s fake content, Tye said, comes from users.

Regardless, it does little to allay small business fears. In addition to Karri Twist, BuzzFeed found several other cases of companies being targeted in social updates. It’s unclear, however, how they’ve been affected by the news articles about them.

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