ProPublica explores a slimy reach of the media system, where fabricated news stories draw the faithful in to read fake celebrity pitches from Elon Musk and others selling things that don’t exist or don’t work. A “mysterious” network called AdStyle is identified as the connecting tissue between the scam sites, which carefully mimic the design of trusted news sources.
Such scam ads have proliferated on right-wing websites worldwide in the past eight months. They use fake endorsements from celebrities including Winfrey, country music singers Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, Twitter and Tesla owner Elon Musk, actor Ryan Reynolds, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder to promote dubious medicines and cryptocurrency frauds. Conservative publishers make money from each click on a deceptive ad, exploiting their like-minded readers.The ads were placed by AdStyle, an ad network whose corporate website lists it as being registered in Delaware with an office in Boca Raton, Florida. Its website said it is “trusted by” major brands including Toyota, Ikea, EA Games and L’Oréal. But Florida and Delaware corporate registries have no record of AdStyle, which appears to be operated by a Latvian couple living in Italy. Spokespeople for Toyota, Ikea and EA Games said they could not find any records of those companies working with AdStyle. L’Oréal did not respond to queries.”These ads are certainly terrible,” said Kirsten Grenier Burnett, a spokesperson for McEntire. Spokespeople for Trudeau, Musk, Reynolds, Schröder and Parton either did not respond or declined to comment.
The scam sites are being reported as “right-wing,” but the range of celebs suggests no particular political ideology. The conservative audience it’s finding might speak for itself here, a self-reinforcing loop of advertising and analytics that homes in on whoever keeps clicking.
One commentator writes that the sites are using “AI” but they aren’t, unless madlibs are now “AI”. They’re just inserting random celebrity names and photos into stock stories.