How a Fake News Whistleblower Got It Wrong

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In an article published by Buzzfeed News in February of 2020, fake news reporter Craig Silverman thought that he had uncovered a network of news sites operated by Matt McGorty. While these domains were owned by McGorty at one point, many pointed out by Silverman had either been sold or were no longer active.

The report included a myriad of unchecked facts and incorrect information. Nonetheless, Silverman went ahead and published the piece. The story was later updated to remove McGorty’s brother who was also named in the piece. Once the facts were presented to Silverman, he decided to partially update the piece removing the brother, but chose not to remove the piece completely despite proof that none of it was true.

WallStreet.org obtained the email thread between Silverman and McGorty and have included it below. The remarkable aspect of this story is that this is the work of a fake news reporter. That is to say, Silverman is an expert at uncovering fake news, yet seemingly got this one wrong on many levels.

In a conversation with WallStreet.org, McGorty confirmed that he has also sold sites to larger companies, including Markets.co to Tip Ranks as well as TechNews.org.  McGorty also confirmed that he met with a member of the Google News team in November to discuss the current problems with the service.  Shortly thereafter, Google News changed its approval process and no longer allows new websites to appear on News.Google.com.  This has been questioned publicly by Search Engine Roundtable.

Here is the first email from McGorty to Silverman outlining some of his errors, most notably the mention of McGorty’s brother who had nothing to do with any of the websites.

April 1, 2020

Hi Craig,

I just got a call from my brother and he let me know that I needed to reach out to you in order to get his name removed from your article.

First off my brother  had nothing to do with any of this. He provided the magaoti@gmail.com Google account to me years ago and I used the email address for a hosting account. We are respectfully asking that his name and reference to any brother being also involved be removed.

I did not respond to you due to personal circumstances in the week that you attempted to get in touch with me. I was on a yearly golf trip with twelve guys from Thursday-Monday in Orlando and was not checking any email while on this trip.

On Monday I was extremely sick upon returning to Charlotte. And for the next four days I was barely able to get out of bed. On that Tuesday night I was contacted by Intrado and told that I would be placed on immediate leave. I later learned that it was as a result of you contacting my employer with the allegations. The following week was a difficult one as my whole family was tested positive for Flu A. This involved many sleepless nights of dealing with intense sickness and trying to understand what this article meant for my job.

The day the article was published I hired a lawyer to deal with Intrado and they informed me not to contact you in any way. Now I think that was bad advice. But at the time I didn’t know what Intrado was on doing. 

1. I was a top employee at Intrado. If you had spoken to any of my managers you would find out that I was a top employee at my position for over 14 years.
2. I never used any company resources for Google News included websites or for any purpose outside of my job duties
3. If you spoke to any personal reference, you would find that I’m very involved in my community and school.
4. The allegation that I was plagiarizing for profit was never my intent and I never profited from the copied content.

The process worked as follows:
I would get a domain included in Google News and then use a content provider to keep the Google News status “active”. The content they provided was solely to keep the status of Google News active, not for profit. I had no idea they were sending all kinds of scraped content to my sites. I found out about it in December and deleted it all immediately and even shut down those sites then. There have not been any active sites since December.

The damage that the provider had done caused much more harm than good. This is also why the article caught me off guard as it had been almost two months since any of the sites had even been active.

The sole purpose of keeping the websites active were to later sell them. Right now there are still many other sites publishing the same auto-generated finance content. This is ironic because I stopped in October but there are many others still going and actually profiting from Google’s inability or unwillingness to fix the problem.

If you need any of this information verified, I can send over whatever you might need.

I’m also happy to answer any other questions you might have. Unfortunately for me the damage has been done and I now have plenty of time on my hands to help clarify anything. The main point I want to stress is that my brother had nothing to do with this and he doesn’t deserve to have his reputation destroyed as well.

Best Regards,
Matt

After this initial email, Silverman recognized his failure to fact check any of his information and went ahead and updated the article, removing McGorty’s brother. He responded with the following email:

Hi Matt and ***,

As I’m sure you’ve seen, the article was updated last week. At this point we consider the article and any related discussions resolved.

Best regards,
Craig

The matter was not resolved however considering that the article was and still is active and living on the internet. McGorty wrote Silverman again the following month breaking down exactly how is article was incorrect and how the false narrative of it was defamatory. Here is the email from May 2020:

Hi Craig,

I wanted to follow up again as unfortunately this really isn’t a closed matter. The reputation damage from the article’s incorrect information has caused immense damage to me and my family. As you know, Intrado let me go simply as a result of the “bad press” given to their brand.

There was some very important details regarding these sites that you either ignored or weren’t made aware of. Why was I only given six days to respond to your emails? As I mentioned I was away on a 4-day golf trip and returned extremely ill. May I ask what the rush was to publish this piece given that these articles were published in November of 2019 and had already ceased to exist months prior? Was it related to your trip abroad shortly thereafter?

Here is a quote particularly damaging which is wildly untrue:

“Neither was the case. In fact, the plagiarized sites are part of an operation run by a North Carolina man with a background in the financial information industry. And the motivation is simple: money.”

You are insinuating that I was publishing plagiarized content for money. What money? I didn’t make any money from any of the plagiarized content. I wasn’t even aware initially that plagiarized content was going on the domains. I didn’t have any Adsense account on the sites. If there was one, it was owned by the content provider. The only money I earned was from the financial news websites which were completely separate from these using the content provider.
Are these false assumptions you made worth destroying a person’s life over? I worked the full time job and didn’t pay attention to what content was posted on those domains. Isn’t it more unbelievable that Google would rank stories from 2-3 years ago that were re-published?

Here again you are comparing me to other outlets that had some sort of actual malintent.

“McGorty’s sites are also the latest example of how online local news has become polluted by ad fraudsters, political hucksters and operatives, and Russian trolls.”

To be compared to these groups is saddening and absurdly wrong.

Here is another piece of information which is damning and leaves out some very important details: “After conducting an internal investigation, Google terminated two AdSense advertising accounts that belonged to McGorty. A company spokesperson added that in December, the company made changes to Google News to help keep these kinds of sites out of the service.”

For one I haven’t used Adsense since 2018. Did you know that I actually TOLD Google News about this problem at a product event? This is a likely reason they actually MADE the change in December. I was in no way looking to profit off of plagiarism. In fact, I was trying to do the opposite and help stop it.
Here is another sentence that is completely incorrect:

“His sites were seeded with plagiarized content to make them appear real.

This helps them get accepted into Google News. Once accepted, the sites reprinted press releases or content provided by a partner, with an aim at attracting traffic via Google News, Google Alerts, social shares, and search engine optimization.”

This is false. I used original content to get them into Google News. How would plagiarized content get into Google News? This is a big assumption that is wrong and is again damaging to my reputation.

The article goes on and on, bringing my wife and family into it as well as my past work history. How was any of this relevant to the story?

This is another very concerning sentence: “Regardless of what Paulson may do, McGorty’s sites have already done damage. Pinho said the experience of piecing the network caused him to question whether Google was properly moderating what it inputted into Google News.”

Can you elaborate on the “damage” done? The greatest damage is what you have done to my family based mostly on broad based incorrect assumptions. You seem to be a decent journalist, but I find it very ironic that a fake news journalist would in fact do the exact thing that you are fighting against: creating real life damage based on false internet reporting.

Additionally I have received several threatening voice calls over the past few weeks which have added a new element to all this: our safety. Since I never viewed this as an “operation” worth hiding, my phone number and home address are easily available on the internet via a simple Google search.

Given the false narrative, lack of fact checking and continued damage this will personally cause, I would like to kindly request that the article be removed.

If you are unwilling to remove it I would like to request at the very least, removing my personal information, such as my name, work history and location.

If you’d like to discuss further, I’m happy to talk on the phone.

Regards,
Matt

After obtaining the facts, Silverman was still unwilling to update or remove the article. McGorty confirmed that he in the process of filing a defamation lawsuit against Buzzfeed and  Silverman.

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