Comment: How much does it cost to lie online?

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How much does it cost to create and spread fake news or false narratives online? 

According to new research from digital identity security specialists, ID Crypt Global, the answer depends on what scale of disruption you want to create. You’ll need to pay £400,000 to create a campaign of truly devastating falsehoods, but an awful lot of damage can still be done for absolutely no cost at all.

Fake news and false narratives are commonplace online. They can be created by an individual sitting at home with their smartphone, by AI bots, or even large-scale ‘farms’ in countries like Russia, India, and China, where hundreds of people are employed to fabricate and falsify the things we see online. 

ID Crypt Global has estimated the cost of creating and spreading various types of fake news and false narratives in 2024 by analysing previous 2017 data* published on the subject and adjusting the numbers for inflation. 

The cost of creating fake news

To enlist the help of a click farm, in which one server has the control capacity of 30 smartphones and can ‘click’ to artificially inflate the presence and therefore influence of certain posts, costs an estimated £4,922.

To manipulate an online petition, such as those regularly created via change.org, with 100,000 fake votes or signatures will cost an estimated £1,064. 

To generate one million fake YouTube views costs around £998, and to add 1,000 fake comments to a social media post each month is estimated to cost £250. 

While these nefarious activities require you to have a pretty healthy budget for creating fake news, there are other influential methods that cost very little money, and one that costs nothing at all. 

For example, to pay for a bot to produce 500 retweets costs just £2. 100 artificial YouTube likes costs £1.55; and to buy 100 fake YouTube followers is estimated to cost as little as 66p. 

But perhaps most frightening of all is that anyone and everyone can create their very own convincing fake news story for absolutely free via a website called Break Your Own News. And once this fake news story has been shared to social media, there is no telling how far it will spread and how much influence it will have, despite having absolutely no relationship to truth. 

What about the biggest, most disruptive fake news campaigns? 

All the things described above are effective ways of creating false narratives, but they’re doing so on a relatively small scale which could fairly be described as ‘amateur’. 

There is another side to fake news; a much darker side in which seasoned and skilled professionals can be hired to create disinformation that intentionally has an enormous impact on the real world without anyone even realising it’s happening. As such, the costs of these services are substantial. 

For example, there are companies in the world that will work to manipulate a decisive course of action by influencing decision-making at critical junctures such as a referendum or general election. Such projects take around 12-months to execute, and their approach is multi-faceted. 

To hire such a company, you’re going to have to spend something in the region of £400,000, which means these sorts of campaigns are reserved for large companies or even government states who wish to influence the public’s opinion and choices in nefarious ways. 

There are other companies who will help organise or instigate large-scale street protests for an estimated cost of almost £200,000; and others who will execute a campaign to discredit an influential and honest journalist for a cost of around £50,000. 

CEO and Founder of ID Crypt Global, Lauren Wilson-Smith, commented:

“Welcome to the modern world. We live in what has often been described as the Post-Truth era, a description that is as terrifying as it is accurate. For all the good that the internet and social media has done for the world, it has also opened up endless avenues and opportunities for those with bad intentions to spread fake news, generate false narratives, and force their own agendas on an unsuspecting public.  

The simple fact is that we as a society have not worked quickly enough to understand the ways in which our innovations can be manipulated and used for evil, and therefore haven’t created ways to protect ourselves from harm. 

With new technologies like AI growing increasingly sophisticated and capable by the day, the risk is only increasing. It’s the responsibility of every company involved in the creation of news media to do their part, ensuring that their files are protected from being abused for disinformation purposes, rather than laying such responsibility at the door of social media platforms.”

Data tables and sources

Main Photo Credit: Nicolas McComber via Getty Images

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.
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