ABC presenters Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland have become the latest TV hosts to have their names hijacked for a fake news article, with made-up quotes and product endorsements attributed to them.
- The scam article was designed to promote cryptocurrencies
- A Facebook ad circulated the fake article, prompting renewed scrutiny on the tech giant
- The ACCC warns of a rapidly rising number of “celebrity endorsement” cons
The scam involves a phony website featuring what appears to be an article about a guest on the News Breakfast program.
It includes a real photo of then-high school student David Trevorrow, who appeared on the show in 2017 to discuss the concept of students hiring their principals, but the article is a fabricated account about how he made money using cryptocurrencies.
It includes a fake quote attributed to Trioli, purporting that she made money using a digital currency.
“I was stunned at the deviousness of it all,” Rowland said of the bogus article.
“Unless you knew otherwise, it was presented in a way that would have you believe we were happily promoting this product on the ABC.
“We talk a lot on News Breakfast about the dangers of fake news, but to see yourself as the subject of a concocted news story is particularly bracing.”
The ABC released a statement to alert the public to the con, which appears to be an international effort, with similar stories bearing identical headlines also circulating online.
Facebook takes action
A link to the cryptocurrency story was posted as a paid advertisement on Facebook, which generates revenue for the social media giant and raises questions about its ability to crack down on fake news.
Mr Trevorrow said he first heard about the article after a family friend saw the ad, believed the story could be real, and contacted his parents to find out more about cryptocurrencies.
“Over the next couple of days I’d say at least 10 different people contacted me or my parents having come across it on Facebook,” Mr Trevorrow said.
“The article itself seems quite fake to my generation, but I had several people genuinely think that it might be true.
“Seeing the photos of me used in that way, it was quite distressing.
“You feel very powerless when you’ve got no idea how many people are seeing this is about you. You know it’s not true, but you don’t know if people will believe it.”
The ABC reported the Facebook ad promoting the fake article to the site’s administrators, and it was removed in a matter of hours.
“We do not allow adverts that are misleading or false on Facebook, and we removed several adverts that violated our advertising policies,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
Facebook took to advertising its efforts, but vandals made their own statements. (ABC News: Christopher Dengate)
Facebook has been under increasing scrutiny in recent months over its platform being used to spread fake or malicious news, particularly around elections overseas.
This includes Russian-backed operatives publishing tens of thousands of posts to Facebook in the lead-up to the 2016 US election, reaching as many as 126 million Americans.
In response Facebook has created a “war room” filled with engineers, data scientists and artificial intelligence tools to rid the site of fake news.
Between April and September last year it took action against 1.5 billion fake accounts, and said it caught 99.6 per cent of them before a user reported it.
ACCC sounds warning
The number of articles featuring fake celebrity endorsements has increased drastically in recent years, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warning social media has allowed “sophisticated” scammers to take advantage of users.
There were almost 200 reports of false endorsements made to the ACCC’s Scamwatch in the year to September last year, representing a 400 per cent increase.
Many involved endorsements for products like skin care creams or investment schemes, which conned people out of their money by asking them to sign up for contracts that, in many cases, had auto-renewing subscriptions and were nearly impossible to break.
“The groups behind these celebrity endorsement scams are organised and sophisticated fraudsters who are often involved in other scams,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said last September.
“It’s easy for them to create fake ads and websites to give credibility to their con.
“Most of the reports to Scamwatch involve these scam advertisements running on Google ad banners or as ads in Facebook’s news feeds.
“These tech giants must do more to quickly suspend ads, as every time consumers click on a scam ad, they are at risk of losing money.”