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‘Pink slime’ local news sites explode in Michigan ahead of election: What to know

Sites funded by political groups, 'dark money'

"Pink slime" local news outlets in Michigan.
"Pink slime" local news outlets in Michigan. (WDIV)

Ahead of the 2020 election, outlets masquerading as credible local news websites have increased around the U.S., including in Michigan.

A new report published by the Columbia Journalism Review finds an explosion of “pink slime” local news outlets, especially in swing states, ahead of the November election.

“Pink slime” is the name given to these low-cost automated news sites, built to look like other credible news sites, but are owned, funded or operated by political-interest groups or “dark money” networks. They are not real news sites, although they may, at times, feature news.

The sites often feature fake authors, who are listed for countless other sites in the network.

The network of “pink slime” sites has increased from 450 sites in December 2019, to more than 1,200 in 2020, according to the Tow Center.

In many cases, Columbia Journalism Review found convoluted connections between sites and different information about its origins on its About page and social media pages, likely meant to confuse potential readers.

It’s unclear how impactful these sites are, especially in filling information voids in communities without enough credible news outlets.

The vast majority of “pink slime” sites are under the “Metric Media” umbrella, accounting for about 80 percent of all domains identified by Columbia, including the majority in Michigan.

You can find the full list of sites in the U.S. right here.

In July, Jessica Mahone and Philip Napoli mapped hundreds of these sites in a report published in Nieman Lab.

“We found that while the (few) left-leaning sites prioritize statewide reporting, right-leaning sites are more focused on local reporting, suggesting different strategies for engaging with targeted audiences and indicating the potential for these sites to exacerbate polarization in local communities.”

Related: How to spot fake news as political season gets into full swing

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