GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There is a network of websites that have been advertising on Facebook as local newspapers, but they’re not.
They have names like Lansing Sun, Great Lakes News Wire and Grand Rapids Reporter.
“I got a sponsored post on my personal Facebook feed for a story that was about how we had plenty of money for the roads and so that seemed a little bit out of step with the contemporary debate, so I clicked on it, and it also said it was from the Lansing Sun which I hadn’t heard of,” Matt Grossmann, political scientist at Michigan State University said.
“So, I clicked through and looked around a little bit and noticed that there was a network of 37 or so of these sites across Michigan, many of them with similar content.”
The websites have localized coverage, but the news and stories are mostly the same and come from a conservative political perspective.
Grossmann says that’s not what’s concerning to him — it’s the lengths taken to promote the sites as local sources.
“I don’t want to overestimate the effects of these because it’s unclear how many people will see them and when most people see news stories from a slanted perspective, it just reinforces their existing views,” Grossmann said. “That said, what’s sort of new and kind of disturbing here is the effort to disguise it as a local newspaper site so much that people kind of may think of it as an objective source that’s also local, when it didn’t seem to be.”
Grossmann, who also serves as director of MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, encourages people to analyze where stories are coming from. The writer’s name that serves as a story’s byline should be hyperlinked to a bio page or list of other recent publications.
The outlet itself should also have an area to read more about the writers or information about the site. An internet search of the publication’s name will also likely generate additional information about it and its owner.
We’ve reached out to one of the websites for comment on this story and have not heard back as of Thursday morning.