'I write fake news that gets shared on Facebook'

image copyrightThinkstock

The creator of a fake news site says there's nothing wrong with what he does.

Chief Reporter (CR), as he calls himself, is being forced to defend the Southend News Network after Facebook announced it was going to do more to tackle made-up news appearing in people's News Feeds.

But he insists people are entertained by his style of news and thinks some media sites are guilty of publishing stories which border on fabrication.

"People read a headline and then don't even bother to check the content before they share it," he's told Newsbeat.

CR says he set up Southend News Network as "a bit of a joke" and as a reaction to the way local stories were covered in his area.

He then says he went further, making up stories on whatever were the hot topics of the day.

"It ended up with up to two million views per month. Half the people fall for the stories, the other half are genuinely entertained by what they read," says CR.

It doesn't take much to spot some of the fakes...

image copyrightSouthend News Network

But some stories sound incredibly convincing and people share them, spreading what they believe to be the truth.

CR's spoof site, unlike others like the Daily Mash and News Thump, deliberately sounds like it could be a genuine news service.

Anything wrong with that?

"It encourages the reader to really look at what they're going through and think, 'Is this real, is this not real?'" says CR.

"If enough of an electorate are in a frame of mind where they will believe absolutely everything they read on the internet, to a certain extent they have to be prepared to deal with the consequences."

This is a reference to the suggestion that fake news stories may have helped Donald Trump win the US presidential election.

And CR clearly isn't impressed....

image copyrightSouthend News Network

CR believes genuine news sites are just as much to blame.

"They print actual news stories but put such ridiculous spin on them that they border over into fake news," he says.

"If Facebook is going to penalise fake sites, they should also penalise real news sites who I think are guilty of far worse crimes than me."

CR says he's actually helping spark a debate.

"For too long, people have been prepared to accept whatever's been fed to them in terms of news.

"If I put a flashing banner at the top of every story with a warning saying 'this is not real, don't take it at face value', people would still share it and get absolutely outraged. So I don't know what else I could do."

image copyrightSuffolk Gazette
image captionThere are some stories that you really, really want to be true

CR admits few things are more satisfying than when a fake story really flies.

His favourite recent example is an article about Southend Pier being sold off to a Chinese shipping company.

The plan involved the pier being demolished to make way for bigger ships.

"I put so many clues in there for people to realise it wasn't real, even down to calling the company Xi Ping Shipping.

"But people just ignored them. It started a massive debate on Facebook."

Then he got a call from a local councillor.

"They told me the amount of interest the story was generating for Southend pier and Southend as a destination meant, in his mind, Southend News Network could only be a good thing for the town."

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