Mike McRoberts: How clickbait made people think I was fired

We've all seen the proliferation of fake news on the internet - deliberately intriguing stories on social media platforms like Facebook that entice you to click through.

For one of Newshub's own, the clickbait became a lot more personal when the fake stories began reporting he'd been sacked from his job as a news anchor.

For tonight's Because It Matters, here's the still-employed Mike McRoberts.

OPINION: This was the shocking news I was greeted with one morning, reports I'd been fired on live TV. And while I look suitably sombre in the photographs, it's because I was reporting from the Christchurch shootings, not because I'd just lost my job.

So what was the point of these fake stories, and who was behind them? We went to Australian-based internet security specialist Mick Callan, who runs the Black Mouse consulting firm.

"Clickbait works on the principle that it reaches out to the person, whether they be in a vulnerable state or not, and hits them with something that they are interested in," he told Newshub.

"In your case they're interested in Mike McRoberts, and regardless of what that interest is these particular clickbait ads have garnered people's interests, they've clicked on it and then it drives them on to the location that the spammer or the troll wants you to go to."

In my case, the clickbait took you to various food websites that sold recipes and menu planners.

"What that indicated to me was they were using that particular emotive response to draw people onto websites that sell food menus or food recipes, and once they were there obviously an advertising agency was picking up money for each of those clicks," Callan says.

Over the space of just a couple of days we found dozens and dozens of these fake news stories reporting that I'd been fired. When we clicked on them they took us through to what looked like legitimate websites, but all had been created just a couple of months ago and disappeared just as quickly.

With apologies to Mark Twain, rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. And while this kind of fake news may seem innocuous enough, there is a much darker, sinister side to clickbait.

"It's one of the techniques used by violent extremists so ISIS, Al Qaeda will again use the clickbait approach and many other approaches as well," Callan warns.

"They're quite sophisticated on social media to try and draw in people that are interested in a particular aspect, whether that be conspiracy theories or religious information, they'll use that clickbait to start drawing them in further and further that community of violent extremists."

This technique has been used extensively in the UK and Australia where impressionable young people are taken through to propaganda videos encouraging recruitment.

Following the London Bridge terror strike in 2015, it was discovered one of the attackers had been influenced by extremist videos on YouTube. Parent company Google responded by redirecting extremist searches to anti-terror videos, but the system is far from failsafe.

As for the fake news stories about me, without being able to contact the owners of the sites the experts advise a "brute-strength attack". This means posting multiple times about myself so that the algorithm changes and suppresses the fake posts - leaving the scammers to post fake stories about someone else.

Mike McRoberts is the co-anchor of Newshub Live at 6pm.

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