The quick, cheap, easy process of building an AI-generated disinformation website

An American journalist created a completely automated political misinformation website that can publish dozens of false news stories every day for little over a hundred bucks in just two days, especially troublesome during election campaigns. — AFP Relaxnews

For just over a hundred dollars and in just two days, an American journalist managed to set up a fully automated political disinformation website, capable of publishing dozens of fake news stories a day. His experience sheds light on an issue that could prove particularly problematic during election campaigns.

Jack Brewster is a journalist, currently working at NewsGuard, a startup that provides tools to counter online misinformation. He recently demonstrated that it's possible to quickly and easily create a fully automated political disinformation website using the latest advances in artificial intelligence. He describes his experience in an article published in the Wall Street Journal, titled “How I Built an AI-Powered, Self-Running Propaganda Machine for US$105 (RM503.30)”.

In just two days, and for just over US$100 (RM479), the journalist built his own fully automated, AI-powered local news site. To do this, he simply contacted a web developer and asked him to create this AI-generated website. Its special feature is that it's programmed to create false political stories, which can prove especially powerful and problematic in this pre-election period in the US.

With no expertise whatsoever, he put the entire project in the hands of a developer he recruited from a freelancer platform. And he was spoiled for choice: "I searched 'AI generated news website' on the home page and up came dozens of developers offering to build my site. [...] The prices ranged from US$30 (RM143) to build a basic AI news site to as much as US$350 (RM1677) to 'create the best automated news website monetized with ads ready to earn,' according to one lister."

His choice fell on a highly-rated Pakistani developer of "around 30" years old. The idea was to create a website specifically designed to support a political candidate, Bernie Moreno, in the US Senate race, by discrediting his opponent through fake news stories.

The successful developer then only had to use a few lines of code and ChatGPT to power the website, dubbed "The Buckeye State Press." In addition to misleading readers (and potentially voters), this kind of site could even turn a profit through advertising. With the installation of targeted advertising tools, such as Google ad widgets, a site like this can quickly become a source of revenue.

In the end, setting up this 100% bogus site cost only US$105 (RM503.30): US$80 (RM383.48) for the developer and US$25 (RM119.80) for the domain name and hosting. Since then, the site has been running automatically, publishing dozens of articles every day based on the instructions given to it by Jack Brewster.

It's worth noting that after a few days, the journalist changed the game, this time requesting that the articles should be in favor of Sherrod Brown, Bernie Moreno's opponent. And it worked!

Brewster's example shows just how easy and inexpensive it is to fabricate false news on the internet, and pass it off as credible. In total, NewsGuard has already identified over a thousand sites of this type, i.e. local news platforms that are supposedly independent, but which are actually financed and/or run by political operatives. – AFP Relaxnews

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