Like it hate it, the Daily Mail website is one of the largest in the planet. Take a look at Wikipedia and you suddenly realise just how large it is. It’s massive. Absolutely massive. There’s separate home pages for the UK, USA, India and Australia. It’s therefore geared for the audience reading it, and gets over 218 million unique monthly visitors. Some 26.6 million of them spend an average of 46 minutes on the site each month. It’s the most visited English-language newspaper website in the world.
They write articles which are provocative and deliberately annoy and aggravate. This results in an incredibly lively comments section, but it’s a comments section which is ridiculously easy to alter. It’s easy to fake. You can vote comments up or down without logging in, which means that a few fake accounts can post and, with the aid of a few bots, you suddenly get highly rated comments appearing at the very top.
Those comments, to people reading the site, make you feel like you’re missing out or perhaps thinking the wrong thing. It’s the infamous peer pressure, and when you see a comment which has received many thousands of “up votes” it makes you feel like you should perhaps be thinking the same thing. It moulds your beliefs.
Take this article as an example. It’s a Daily Mail classic. Lots of pictures and a few paragraphs detailing how a record amount of countries have kicked out Russian diplomats. America, Canada, France, Germany and so many others. It’s a huge collective action which has pushed Russia out into the cold, but look at the most highly-rated comments…
This is a comment from someone in Russia, but somehow it’s received over 3,500+ “up votes”. Is this website really that popular in Russia that it has garnered so many votes? Really?
Meanwhile, this comment – supposedly from someone in Edinburgh, seems to suggest that we’re being manipulated by the various Western governments. Really? 2,584 people agree?
The third most voted comment, as I type, is this bizarre message..
Plus, in some messages, if you look carefully enough, you can see the obvious mistakes that someone in the UK wouldn’t make. This one, from someone apparently in Instow here in the UK, calls Theresa May “Mrs Theresa May”, which is a bit weird. They’ve also managed to spell “excrement” perfectly, but have then fluffed the word “proud”. Strange that.
Why are people seemingly agreeing with these comments? Well, I’m sorry to say, but there absolutely no way that all these green “up arrows” are real. It’s so unbelievably easy to fake, and the fact that the Daily Mail want to appear so popular means that they’re very lax on their security.
As an example, I can click on the Russian spy article without logging in, then I simply click on the comment that I’d like to vote “up”. I can do this with a browser in “incognito” mode too if I want. The Daily Mail don’t care if you’re logged in or saving cookies at all.
Then, by simply switching to a different device on the very same network, you can do the same again. They’re not even locking it to one external IP address. I can use the 10-or-so phones, laptops and tablets in my house right now to tweak the popularity of one specific comment and it’l receive 10 “up votes”. You can buy an old server off eBay, run 300 virtual machines off it and boom – you simply inflate a comment and create a “collective opinion” in seconds.
And this is just one website. I’ve only picked it because of the colossal popularity and the power that it has, but Facebook and Twitter are also open to these “adjustments”. The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal saw them use Facebook to build a system that could target US voters with personalised political advertisements based on their psychological profile. All through an API which Facebook had willingly made available. Facebook. The same company that store all your phone numbers too.
Who is doing it? Who is responsible for altering and forming opinions? Who has helped to modify our decisions on Brexit or Trump?
Is it Russia?
I wouldn’t be so sure…
The inflammatory and biased language of the articles, the obvious political tendencies that seep through the articles on this and many other sites. Add that to the comments sections, which are brimming with comments that seek to augment this message, bolstering your belief that the newspaper is right. Then, just to add to all that, the seemingly coordinated and targeted responses and posts on social media.
And we’re all falling for it.
Could it be a media company? Seeking to add to their existing ability to skew elections and decision-making through newspaper headlines?
Russian bots, American advertising money, Brexit party funds, media barons. Either way. We’ve all been played.