this is "nightline." >> tonight, faking news. political lies spread on social media by unsuspecting users. did it change the course of the election? meet the unlikely teenagers pumping out fake headlines from half a world away. >> the past three months i made my parents. >> who they say they're really looking for. found alive. a mother reported abducted while jogging. her husband and police police searching for weeks. >> i'm coming, honey, i'm trying, doing everything i can. >> emerging on the side of a highway. >> she's chained with a quarter-inch heavy chain and hose clamps on her wrists. >> new questions about her mysterious disappearance.
but what was their motive? and better than beyonce? ? okay ladies ? >> the surprising instagram account ranked in "rolling stone's" top five. even lining up in formation ahead of queen bey. wait till you see the pictures. first the "nightline 5." that cough doesn't sound so good. >> i think you sound great, move over. >> ease, booger man. mucinex will take care of your cough. >> i'll text you in four when your cough returns. >> one pill lasts 12 hours, so. >> looks like i'm good all night. >> david, please, listen! still not coughing? not fair, you guys. waffles are my favorite! >> some cough medicines only last four hours. one mucinex lasts 12 hours.
good evening. thanks for joining us. tonight we take you to surprising sources of fake news stories which spread faster than real ones during the month leading up to the election. the maxim says, a lie has no legs. but on social media, a lie can often have wings. with the help of users eager to share articles confirming their political views. so just how damaging are these salacious stories and what's behind we track down the truth behind the lies. what was your reaction when you saw bucket of losers trending? >> i freaked out. >> reporter: it would have been the scoop of a lifetime. a secret transcript of a hillary clinton speech made inside a goldman sachs board room. >> she called sanders voters or whatever a bucket of losers, a play on the basket of deplorables. >> reporter: the story went viral, got picked up on fox
to. >> she called sanders supporters a bucket of losers. >> the bucket of losers document, it's strange-looking. >> reporter: strange-looking because the whole thing was totally made up. by this man. marco jacon. >> my hands were shaking. like, this is ridiculous. i was thinking that it had gone way too far. >> that was apparently a doctored quote and not real. we apologize for that error. >> reporter: his site, realtruenews.org, another example news headlines. in one of the most contentious elections in modern history, sensationalized and at times flat-out fake news amplifying partisan rancor across the country. >> pope francis shocks the world, endorses donald trump for president! fake. fbi agents suspected in hillary's em mail leak found dead from apparent murder/suicide from "the denver
established media brands are built on accuracy. some rogue websites masquerading as legitimate are reporting misinformation and it's spreading like wildlife online. president obama urged common sense. >> if we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems. >> reporter: buzzfeed's craig silv silverman has been tracking fake news on the internet for years. >> when you track t these websites when did it go big? >> this year. 2016, incomparable to any other years. one of the big factors you can't ignore is donald trump. he generated a huge amount of online excitement. a lot of engagement on facebook. >> reporter: buzzfeed uncovered an unlikely breeding ground for some of the fake news sites. >> more than 100 websites in one small town in central macedonia. >> reporter: that's right, macedonia.
depressed city of 45,000, the rust belt of the former yugoslavia. >> used to have an industrial economy, that has gone away, and there's a lot of young people there. it's a by for them to earn extra money, a way for them to find something to do. >> reporter: we decided to go to macedonia to see for ourselves. some of the websites' creators are speaking out in shadow for the first time on television. >> people found politics is a great field by accident. >> i have like 7.5 million views on one of >> there is no protection from news, like they'll find a way to spread. >> reporter: most are not political, their only allegiance is to making money. each click of an ad on their site means cash in their pocket. >> basically the past three months i made my parent's whole life salary. >> reporter: at first they blogged about cars, liberal
>> you write trump, the whole people are trying to read something that hillary make like some bad things, like e-mail scandal, wikileaks. you start writing and people start opening the posts and read about it. start resharing. >> people from the states are watching your website, clicking on the banners, and you're making the money. it was like overnight. >> is it overstating it to say all this fake news and the echo chamber that supported it had an impact on the election? >> i think it's impossible to know what the impact is of this stuff. but there's no question that when, for example, we looked at the top 20 fake news stories about the election and compared them to the top 20 election stories from 19 major media outlets, the fake news ones got more engagement on facebook. >> reporter: two days after trump's victory, facebook founder mark zuckerberg
>> the idea that fake news influenced the election in any way i think is a pretty crazy idea. >> reporter: but a recent pew poll found 62% of american adults get news on social media, with facebook leading the pack by far. nearly two-thirds of its users getting news from the site. it's a fact these young entrepreneurs were banking on. >> see how many people are opening the posts, like six people, three people in a minute. facebook, social traffic, like 90% of the traffic is from facebook. >> facebook drives the traffic that helps them make money. >> reporter: the guys in macedonia are quick to argue that their sites are not fake news. >> first, i don't agree that the sites are fake. maybe some of them have fake stories. but not a lot. >> reporter: but some go further. >> the only copy-paste for mainstream media?
>> you need to have a good headline for your story to be successful. >> a headline you made yourself? >> yeah. >> can you show us a headline? >> boom, rush reveals michelle's perverted past after she dumps on trump. this is the headline. >> what was the original headline? >> rush reveals michelle's past. >> reporter: but those sites they're lifting from, not exactly pulitzer prize-winning. >> this is the site we take the most posts, >> western journalism? >> yes. conservative tribute, this is the federal paper. >> it's really easy to make something up. the amount of effort, actually, to create something that gets a huge amount of attention on facebook and can earn thousands and thousands of dollars, is minimal. >> reporter: but after scoffing at the notion that fake news on facebook had an impact, zuckerberg now seems to recognize there might be a problem writing, the bottom line is we take misinformation
responsibility seriously. we've made significant progress but there is more work to be done. >> facebook is the platform where this stuff is taking off and going viral. and if facebook simply walks away and washes its hands of the whole thing, it's only going to get worse. >> reporter: but the biggest game changer could lie in eliminating the profit motive. >> basically, i have my bank account connected to my google adsense account. and the payments are sent to my bank account. so in a way we are working for google. >> one of the guys we talked to get 30%. >> google is making money off fake news, a huge network adsense, you can put adsense ads on any website. google is the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to online advertising. >> reporter: in a statement google telling us as of early last week, they now prohibit google ads from being placed on misrepresentative content, adding, moving forward we will restrict ad serving on pages
conceal information." while many of those sites were a sweet spot for cash, marco chicon says for him it was never about money. >> the number of hits in terms of advertising, i may have had $200 on the site. >> what were you thinking when you posted some of these articles? >> the only way i could think of to have conversation with these people was to say, if you got a piece of crazy fake news, i got one too. and it's even crazier, it's absurd. >> reporter: absurd pieces. like dr. ben carson's call for a grain reserve under the or obama ordering isis to take out trump. all, of course, false. why put what could potentially be misconstrued as true out there? because lot of people would say you poisoned the well. >> they might say that. this is a parody. there's real news, abc.co that looks like abc, designed to look real. >> yet people ate it up as if it were true.
like abc news. it's run by a guy in arizona named paul horner, who considers himself i think a hoax artist. the crazy thing about this particular site is one of donald trump's kids and his campaign manager, kellyanne conway, both shared at least one story from this fake site during the campaign. >> reporter: he showed me some of his stories online. >> this is a made-up conversation. it's meant to be funny. the byline here is "max insider." >> reporter: separating fact from fiction is not easy when mistrust of mainstream media is at an all-time high. >> when the president-elect will say the only reason hillary clinton has won the popular vote is because of millions voting illegally, which is completely not true, i think that gives license to folks to be loose with the truth and for people to make things up. >> reporter: when our social media feed, designed to mirror our own opinions, only confirming our biases. so when you give a customer what they want? >> they end up drowning in
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to swirl around sherri papini, wife and mother of two found thursday morning after missing for more than three weeks. >> chp is advised she is heavily battered and it is a confirmed kidnapping. >> the hunt still on for the captors. the 34-year-old woman describing two hispanic women, telling authorities they were armed with a handgun and driving a dark-colored suv. >> she's chained with a hose clamps on her wrist. >> she could have been assaulted, hit by her abductors. >> reporter: the shasta county sheriff's office is leading the investigation and delving into her past. >> do you believe mrs. papini's story? >> absolutely. >> reporter: tonight we're learning authorities will interview her again to see if she can offer any more clues to help them close the case. >> we do want her to feel at peace and being able to provide us with additional information.
as less traumatized and as comfortable as possible. because this is not an interrogation. this is really sort of a therapeutic interview to get to a lot of details that could potentially help them solve this case. >> reporter: it was dark just like this when sherry papini told authorities her captors dropped her off there behind me, 150 miles from her home on thanksgiving day. authorities say she was bound with restraints but was able to flag down a passing driver. other drivers were calling 911. nowhere. frantically waving what looked like a shirt up and down. >> reporter: alison sutton was driving down this dark yolo county road when she says she passed papini and called 911. >> she pretty much just came out of nowhere. it startled me. but i figured, you know, if somebody was desperate enough for help that they were willing to be so close to traffic that they might get hit, that they really needed help.
>> i do feel like i got to be a witness to a small miracle. >> reporter: papini was treated and released from a local hospital and reunited with husband keith. it's unknown if she's seen her children yet. authorities say when they first interviewed her, papin. was terrified and offered few details about her captors. >> two women apparently dropped her off. but it's unclear what their role might be. >> reporter: papine, described vanished november 2nd after going out for a run. her husband keith called 911 when he came home from work to an empty house. >> i'm coming, honey. i'm trying. i'm doing everything i can. and i love you. >> reporter: pleading for his wife's safe return. >> bring her home. bring her home. just bring her home. >> reporter: keith instantly began his desperate search using
he located sherri's cell phone on the side of the road. strands of her hear tangled in her earbuds. keith passing a polygraph test, ruling him out early as a suspect. >> it wasn't a feeling like of relief. i just want my wife back. >> reporter: authorities examining all angles including if papini had left on her own, some asking could this be playing out like a scene from the movie "gone girl"? >> to fake a convincing murder you have tha a $50,000 reward for any information. investigators are analyzing papini's restraints and clothing for dna evidence and sifting through surveillance data including camera footage and cell phone records. the shasta county sheriff's office is looking into papini's past, her former marriage and divorce, and her online activity. >> have you spoken with her ex-husband? >> i have not. but my investigators have. >> what of this they learned from him?
investigating, i can't share that information. >> reporter: this alleged abduction comes after two prominent cases of women who were found dead this summer while out running alone. 27-year-old vanessa marcot in princeton, massachusetts. a week prior, karina vetrano of queens, new york. >> if you're a woman, just don't go run alone. you need to run in pairs or more than two. it can all be women but run in a group. >> reporter: after three weeks missing, it's unknown when papini will get back to her normal life. >> it takes a long time, typically, for people who have been traumatized to this extent, and it's not going to happen overnight. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm kayna whitworth in redding, california. next, why the tsa instagram account ranked higher than beyonce's. the answer may take your shoes off.
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that's another story. ? ? >> beyonce may have more than 89 million instagram followers. but according to "rolling stone" magazine there's a hot new instagram that already has users falling into formation. tsa ranked number four on "rolling stone's" list of 100 best instagram accounts between queen bey and rihanna. tsa advising passengers with witty post from a knife tucked in an enchilada, to a set of spears made famouspy the teenage mutant ninja turtles, making it clear even action figure weapons won't fly. jimmy kimmel -- >> if you have a battery, leave it at home with your mother. >> reporter: tsa inviting travelers to ask if their sometimes unusual items are safe for travel.