Recycling Health News for Google Dollars, Robot Style

By Mirko Tobias Schaefer [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Writing Robot” by Mirko Tobias Schaefer [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know a health reporter named Geoff Michaels. I guess I should because in less than 3 months, Geoff has authored almost 1,000 health articles, mostly about heart disease, angioplasty and stents. Geoff writes for a site named Toronto NewsFix, which seems to have been started back in April 2013. I also don’t know Martin March, who’s authored almost 300. Or Robert Cervin, who’s chalked up 700. Or April Clarkson, also at 1,000 posts (she seems to cover any story containing the word “women”). And there are more reporters at NewsFix, as well.

The stories are short, usually less than 200 words, but there are thousands. So how come I have never heard about this website that has such an enormous output? And  how come I didn’t realize that there were so many healthcare stories out there?

Short answer – because there aren’t and my best guess is that Geoff, Marty, Bob, April et al are robots, or possibly “Mechanical Turks, ” or possibly do minimum wage work for Journatic.

For years I have been getting Google News Alerts for any articles containing the keywords angioplasty, stent, etc. But recently I’ve been seeing more and more stories from Toronto NewsFix, and they don’t add up.

My interest was peaked today when I got an “alert” for an article titled, “Kidney disorder complicates cardiovascular surgery.” Hadn’t heard of this study from Duke. And, after a quick bit of research, I understood why: the study (mentioned, but with no medical citation) was published in Circulation in 2002! But the Circulation study was presented in the NewsFix article as new — you know, as in “news.”

Same thing with a study comparing the use of Primary PCI in Canada vs. the U.S. Titled, “Invasive treatment is better after heart attack,” this NewsFix report  by Robert Cervin from July 15 is actually about a decade-old study, also published in Circulation. And the list goes on.

GoogleNews, however, doesn’t know these things, and if you are looking to GoogleNews for the latest information on heart disease, etc. you will be presented with these pseudo reports, whose only purpose seems to be generating income from the Google ads scattered around their site. NewsFix may only get a couple dollars monthly per page from these ads, but when you have a web site with thousands of pages…well you get the picture.

All of this is a bit disconcerting for legit health sites like ours, Angioplasty.Org, or theheart.org, WebMD, TCTMD, etc., etc. because we are all lumped together with this fake news. You’d think that Google’s robots would recognize their own kind. Maybe Google can figure this one out…assuming they’re not so wedded to the income generated by their ads, which Google gets a percentage of.

Until then, it’s a sci-fi flick: Journos vs. Robots!

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Late Update — August 4, 2013: I have now started getting GoogleNews alerts from another robot news site, called TeleManagement, also seemingly located in Canada. It’s clearly a mirror site of Toronto NewsFix, since they both post the exact same inane and ancient stories, here and here, for example. So I’m curious: do you think there’s something wrong with fake health sites publishing non-news stories just to generate Google Ad income?

This may sound like nothing very important, but think about it. Advertisers pay Google for placing their ads on sites with specific keywords. Google then gives the web site, in this case the fake news sites, a portion of that revenue. If someone clicks on an ad, the revenue is significantly higher. So the fake site makes money…and Google makes money – lots and lots of money. Furthermore, since the fake news sites are registered with GoogleNews, every time they post an article with certain keywords, followers of those keywords in GoogleNews get alerts and go to the article, which boosts the ranking of the fake new sites, increasing their revenue. Are we seeing the Circle of Life yet? Hakuna Matata!

I look forward to your comments!

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Late Late Update — February 19, 2014: Turns out that Toronto NewsFix is no more. I was just re-reading this post in preparation for another article and clicked on the link in the opening paragraph. It took me to an ad for TurboTax. I tried it again and it took me to a page selling car insurance, with a note at the top telling me that “newsfix.ca” was for sale: asking price, just under $7,000. Bad robot!

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