The 17-year-old told NBC that he is just one of at least 300 locals from the small Macedonian town of Veles who made a fortune in ad revenue during the presidential election by publishing and promoting fake news on their websites.
Last month, Buzzfeed News reported at least 100 U.S. politics sites are being run out of Veles, most of which are “aggregated, or completely plagiarized, from fringe and right-wing sites in the U.S.”
“You see what people like and you just give it to them,” said Dimitri, who asked NBC not to publish his real name. “You see they like water, you give water, they like wine, you give wine. It’s really simple.”
The proliferation of fake news has created something of an internet mine field, often sparking hateful commentary and aggressive cyber harassment against those targeted by the stories.
One conspiracy theory perpetuated by various fake news sites inspired 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of North Carolina to walk into a Washington, D.C., pizza place, fire an AR-15 rifle and attempt to investigate the story. Known as “Pizzagate,” the hoax connects Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman John Podesta to an alleged child molestation ring run out of pizza shops. The claim has been proven false numerous times, and Welch later admitted to The New York Times that “the intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.”
Dimitri claims he isn’t familiar with the Pizzagate story, but said he has definitely published other types of false anti-Clinton articles.
“I have mostly written about her emails, what is contained in her emails, the Benghazi tragedy, maybe her illness that she had,” he told NBC. “Nothing can beat Trump’s supporters when it comes to social media engagement.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently came under fire for his company’s role in failing to quell the spread of these types of stories. Another Buzzfeed News report found fake news outperformed real news on Facebook, leading some people to wonder what impact these phony articles may have had on American voters.
But Dimitri isn’t bothered by the influence he and other fake news producers might have had on the election results.
“I didn’t force anyone to give me money,” he told NBC. “People sell cigarettes, they sell alcohol. That’s not illegal, why is my business illegal? If you sell cigarettes, cigarettes kill people. I didn’t kill anyone.”