UGLY NEWS: Anatomy of a Fake News Story on MSN and CNBC

If you get your news from MSN, (Microsoft’s alleged news site) or CNBC,  you may want to consider — or reconsider — these sources.   We found a “news article” entitled “We Moved From New Jersey to a Villa In Costa Rica” and it turns out it was not only an advertisement, but one that contained a significant amount of false facts that could readily mislead an unsuspecting reader.    Here’s the news story/ad found on CNBC:




We were intrigued by the article because it contained some facts that didn’t add up.   For example, it identifies a town on the Pacific coast called Tres Rios.   However, there is only one Tres Rios in Costa Rica and it isn’t near the Pacific coast.   It also references the Coranado River, but no such river exists in Costa Rica.   And the $400 for a “one-bedroom villa” was not only dubiously low-cost but how many one-bedroom villas exist in this world?

This story, and similar stories are what is known in the business as advertising disguised as news, native advertising, or an advertorial. We call it fraud.   The advertisers pay the news sites to post the story with out identifying it as an ad.   The only tip off is the word “International Living” posted below the authors name.   International Living is a website that sells information to people looking to retire to other countries.  Not surprisingly, the exact same news article can be found at the International Living website.   It is allegedly written by Frederick Haywood.   However, Mr. Haywood is not listed in the Interntional Living page of authors or contributors.   Nor is the elusive Mr. Haywood found in a Google search to have written anything other than this highly misleading and inaccurate advertorial.   In all likelihood Mr. Haywood doesn’t even exist.

This is but one example of a news story that isn’t a news story at all.  And not only is the advertisement presented as news, it contains provably wrong facts authored by a person who doesn’t exist.   This is far worse than Donald Trump’s alleged ‘fake news’ that contains facts that he doesn’t like.  This isn’t even news and the facts are clearly and provably inaccurate.  This story is far from the only fake news story on the Web.   Sadly, we’ve cataloged hundreds of similar ads masquerading as news.

One tip off was discovered when we dug further and searched the Web for the identical Costa Rica story.   We found that this “news story” can be found all over the Web at fake news sites.  (See the Google search result below)

So the takeaway is more than simply distrusting stories found on CNBC and MSN…..although that is a good start.  If you read something that seems a bit surprising on the Internet, you’ve got to verify the story by taking the following steps:

  • Conduct a websearch on the story title and determine whether it’s been posted at any other reputable news sites;
  • Check out whether the author has written any other stories;
  • Click any links contained within the story.   If that link brings you to a website selling you something, odds are high that the story is a masquerading ad;
  • If the story references a place, confirm that the place actually exists.  (Google maps is a useful resource).




4 replies
  1. Dollen Dobrowolski
    Dollen Dobrowolski says:

    Boy, I wish there were more bloggers pointing out how difficult it is to ferret out inaccurate news. Thanks for this.

  2. Maribel
    Maribel says:

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this excellent blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.

  3. Pete
    Pete says:

    I also investigated the reference to Pacific coast town of Tres Rios, thinking sounded like a great place to live. I was surprised to learn (via Google Maps) that Tres Rios is centrally located, with absolutely no view of the ocean. A few more searches about the place led me to this article. What a crock! Do CNBC and MSN never research the stories they post? (It also appeared on Yahoo News, which everybody knows is crap, so no surprise there.)

    Thanks to San Diego CAN for exposing this baloney.


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