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Beware of websites that mimic local news but push misleading content

Metric Media has nearly 40 NC-based outposts, many pushing content on financial contributors to state legislative and other candidates.

Nearly 40 websites purporting to be hyperlocal news, some with their own Facebook pages, have popped up across North Carolina. They bear unassuming names like “Outer Banks Times” and “South Raleigh News,” but upon further examination, the content is decidedly strange. 

These sites belong to a network of “pink slime” local news outlets called Metric Media, first uncovered in Michigan in 2019. Much like in North Carolina, the Michigan outlets “appear to be local news outlets from throughout Michigan but offer largely identical articles about taxes, alleged voter fraud and education costs with a distinctly conservative political tone.”

This trend is not surprising. Metric Media can be traced back to conservative businessman Brian Timpone, known for a similar company exposed in 2012 for “faking bylines and quotes and for plagiarism,” and Bradley Cameron, a Silicon Valley investor and former Republican strategist.

According to analysis from Columbia Journalism Review Metric Media uses automated services or “bots” to write stories based on data releases. In North Carolina these stories mostly appear to be targeted at FEC and NCSBE campaign finance reports. Stories “written” about contributions to State Legislative candidates, Congressional and US Senate candidates mostly focus on Democrats.

Interspersed between the data release stories are articles containing conservative talking points with the ultimate goal of aiding “campaigns to manipulate public opinion by exploiting faith in local media.” In Michigan, as the following for these sites grew, the frequency the pages shared conservative, and sometimes false, content increased. We should be prepared to see the same occur in North Carolina.

To help inoculate against threats from these misleading sites:
  • DO NOT ENGAGE, even in an attempt to fact-check or refute their claims. Don’t like, share, or comment on their posts. Don’t post links to their websites. These sites need engagement for their goal to succeed.
  • Instead AMPLIFY ACCURATE INFORMATION and FOCUS ON ENGAGING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE. The more you are a trusted source for your audience and followers, the less effective their strategy will be.
  • CHECK YOUR SOURCES. Make sure you know the original source for information, even news, you share. 
The following is a list of the Metric Media sites currently active in NC: