While the term "fake news" gets thrown around so much it has become a buzz word, four years ago we learned that fake news was a real thing as many of the stories being shared on social media, most of them revolving around the presidential election, turned out to be completely untrue. Four years later, documentation Leslie Iwerks, previously of the excellent Imagineering Story on Disney+, has taken a closer look at one small part of what happened back then, and what is still happening, in the new documentary short Selling Lies.
One of the most fascinating things about the business of fake news, as Selling Lies, explains, is the fact that, in a large way, it really is just a business. While some of those behind these made-up stories have an ax to grind, others are just looking to make money. I recently had the chance to speak with Leslie Iwerks about her new film, which debuts on ShortsTV today, October 9, and she told me that it was this conflict between making money and honesty that she found most fascinating while making the film. As Iwerks explained...
In this case, this was a story of entrepreneurship and morality and it was almost those two conflicting storylines that I found fascinating. And I really chose not to be the arbiter of... how you feel. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to love this film...And there's going to be a lot of people that are so shocked by this because they don't really think about fake news or what's behind fake news.
Selling Lies focuses on a specific part of the fake news industry, a small town in Macedonia, where a disproportionate percentage of the fake news was created four years ago. What is most fascinating about the people in that town is that few if any had any sort of political bent. They were only looking to make money and learned that by using the online ad systems and algorithms of Facebook, Google, and others, they could do just that. It was all about getting clicks on sites, and more sensational stories resulted in more clicks, regardless of whether or not they were accurate.
What's quite possibly the most interesting thing about Selling Lies is the way that it absolutely does refrain from making a judgment on this conflict between morality and money. The different positions are put forth and the audience is left to discuss it all after the fact. There are those in the film who think what they did was justified, those that have clearly reconsidered what they were part of, and those that were simply looking to make money, did so, and don't see a problem.
Selling Lies is a compelling look at how some fake news really happens. It is available now via ShortsTV or on VOD.