An entire network of fake news websites designed to look like local news outlets has vanished without a trace. Most likely it happened in the fall-out of a hoax from a month ago about a security guard at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas supposedly being arrested as the "second shooter" after the mass shooting event on October 1st in which 58 people were killed.
Back then we reported that a hoax site cnn-international.com (which was designed to look like a legitimate CNN website) was used to spread an entirely bogus story about security guard "Jesus Compos" being arrested as the second shooter. Not only was the name of the guard spelled wrong (his real name is "Campos") but the entire arrest never happened and Jesus Campos is actually credited with saving many lives by distracting the shooter.
Sharing links to the bogus CNN site on Facebook was made impossible by Facebook on the same day (as we noted back then this just caused copies of the article on other sites to go viral instead). The entire site went offline shortly afterwards apparently because the hosting company or domain name registrar had pulled the plug. An archived copy of the story can still be seen here.
It now turns out these two sites also went down in the week after the incident.
Recently Lead Stories took another look at the network behind the sites. There were several sites that shared a Google Analytics account with the cnn-internationalediton.com spoof site:
All of them are currently down or for sale. But there is more: as we reported in August both the Sunday Inquirer and the Vancouver Telegraph published the same hoax story about a 'diarrhea incident' at a strip club with just some location details changed. Several other sites like the Telegraph Sun and the Border Herald also published similar stories with minor detail changes. These sites (and several others that we found) regularily reposted similar stories with location details switched, for example the "fidget spinner stuck in anus/vagina" or "local man has longest penis in the world". All of them were designed to look like generic local news websites, complete with innocent looking stories on their front page.
Most of these sites had a Facebook widget for liking a Facebook page called "OfficialHeadlines".
That page is now offline too, along with all the sites associated with it:
In turn several of these sites shared an Adsense account with battypost.com, another old and now defunct fake news website.
It is not known if the disappearance of the sites was the result of an action by the owner(s) of the site or if Facebook, their hosting providers and their domain name registrars all pulled the plug on them at the same time. Perhaps it was a combination? Maybe the initial block by Facebook and the takedown of some sites triggered them into rolling up the entire operation?
We have been unable to track down the owner(s) of the network for comment. If you have a tip or know who it might be, visit our contact page and send us a note.