Profile: nbcn.ewstoday.co, breakingreports.co

Site: nbcn.ewstoday.co/[variable string of text, see body below]
Status:
URL for product in post: Uncertain, acts as a redirect to main site below
Base URL: Active (as of 02 Aug 2017) for other, similar products

Main Site: breakingreports.co/[variable string of text]
Date Created: Unknown
Last Accessed: 02 August 2017
Status: Active (as of 02 Aug 2017)

Alternate Site: nbcnews.center
Date Created: Unknown
Last Accessed: 02 August 2017
Status: Active (as of 02 Aug 2017)

Associated Twitter account: @Newslatest
Status: Repurposed? as of 02 Aug 2017 (see post below)
Imitates: NBC News (primarily), other

Theme: LIMITLESS, caveat emptor

Modus operandi: Adverticle; real news imitation; bot shareable

I originally found this little gem back in January of this year. To sum it up upfront: this site is essentially an advertisement for a supplement dressed up as a news article, which immediately links the viewer to the supplement’s ORDER NOW! page. Based on reviews of the company’s tactics for other products, it’s not surprising they would be so sketchy.

Due to the nature of this particular kind of fake news, I will recount what I originally found (based on old screenshots and notes), and include what’s new as each item of note comes up.


Back in January, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw that one of the science news-sharing bots I followed had shared a tweet containing one of those obnoxious explodey-transcendence brain images. Following back the tweet line, I found the original twitter account, “NBC News” or @Newslatest, registered in June 2011 (Fig. 1).

parodynewsacct
Figure 1. Bravely breaking the boundaries of the definition of “parody”.

While this account, like many other fake news pages of various genres, does not satisfy Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of parody as “a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule”, it certainly fulfils the second definition of “a feeble or ridiculous imitation”.[1]

At the time, this account was just an imitation of NBC News, only full of posts for a “‘Limitless’ Pill”.

Nowadays, the twitter handle goes to a page titled “business technology” — whose thumbnail features a closely-cropped image (likely ripped from somewhere else) of a reclining woman — that just spammed links to coupons or something (I don’t know; I don’t coupon, but these URLs are dead, anyway) back in 2009 (Fig. 2).

newsaccttoday
Figure 2. Surprisingly not a ***PARODY COUPON ACCOUNT***.

What’s odd is that this handle was registered in 2009, and the fake news one in 2011; but both are the same handle? Twitter handles are not case-sensitive, at least to my knowledge. I will update on this point if I learn more.

Back to the PARODY NEWS twitter: Clicking on the link in any one of the tweets at the time redirected me to a new URL, so instead of being at an nbcn.ewstoday.co page, I was at a breakingreports.co one. We now already have two red flags that this page is suspicious, and that’s just at the URL:

  1. Oddly broken-up URL (nbcn.ewstoday — why is the period smack in the middle of there?
  2. URL redirect (from nbcn.ewstoday.co to breakingnews.co). (Redirects aren’t necessarily suspect, but when the initial link imitates a legitimate site and takes the user to a different, unexpected site, that’s sketchy.And for a third red flag, just looking at the relevant domain names (not even getting to the page itself!):
  3. Both URLs end in “.co”, which is a suffix for Colombian domains. NBC News is an organization based in the US, so it would make no sense for the URL to end in “.co”.[2]

This page looked like an official NBC News page, (except, obviously, for the weird URL) (Fig. 3).

fakenewspage
Figure 3. Ah yes, my favorite news source:  NBC News, found at breakingreports.co.

While I can no longer find the nbcn.ewstoday.co link that redirects to the breakingnews.co page (still active), I did find a few other, similar products that use both URLs and essentially copy the article verbatim, only replacing the LIMITLESS supplement name. (I will cover the clones in a future post or update.) Additionally, both the above base URLs are used for other, non-NBC imitation-news adverts, especially for other supplements.

Aside from the stray > at the top of the page, the header is legitimate, like they copy-pasted the HTML from the NBC News page. All of the URLs in the header (including the “WESTERN WILDFIRES” and topic links) lead to the actual NBC news pages they’re supposed to.

The “article” itself is pretty lengthy, and I will take the time to pick it apart in a future post or update (especially since the article has been cloned for other products). For now, I just want to share a snippet of what the article looks like, and how the site is still riding on that six-year-old movie hype (Fig. 4).

articlelol
Figure 4. You don’t need to have any recorded side effects if you don’t need clinical trials because your product is a supplement not regulated by the FDA. #Limitless

Aside from the claims here (and elsewhere in the article) that I’ll breakdown later, there’s a nice tweet screencap (not the original tweet embedded, it was just a cropped and edited screencap in the article) reading in part “And thanks to the makers of the supplement for the inspiration! #Limitless” It does not mention a specific supplement maker or supplement, which is convenient for article-cloning purposes. Scrolling through the Limitless movie twitter account, I did not find this tweet.*

What’s especially great about the page is the editor’s note at the bottom, which notifies the reader that the product is still “IN STOCK” as of both today’s date and the very specific date of “Wednesday, October 5, 2016” (Fig. 5)

editorsnote
Figure 5. You’re always IN STOCK if you know javascript, and always suspicious if you don’t proofread your code.

The adverticle has a few more claims, a couple of figures, and a handful of testimonials. Throughout the page, after the blue NBC News header (including the HEALTH subheader, and even down throughout the footer), all of the links use the URL “nbcn.ewstoday.co/click”. This seems innocent enough, especially if you are a bit careful and hover over a URL to reveal the apparent destination before you click. However, it actually redirected me to tryneuroxr.com urging me to start my trial of the supplement (Fig. 6).

theform
Figure 6. Apparently LIMITLESS really means “Limit 1 per customer”. :c

The page is different now, but at the time it was a long page full of more figures and brain-splodey images and claims and testimonials. Sadly, I did not take additional screenshots at the time, and the page is pretty basic now, with a lot fewer testimonials and pie charts than when I first visited.

In a future post or update, I will include further coverage of these URLs and how they’re used. My initial research took me down a rabbit hole of scuzzy marketing and sales practices, particularly for supplements like NeuroXR. During the write-up, I realized I was straying from the main focus of fake news, so today’s profile is shorter than originally planned.

*I did, however, find a tweet that linked to an “infographic” that was part of promoting the film. While it mentioned that the “we only use 10% of our brain” trivia is actually just a myth, and that we do use 100% of our brain (just not all the time), it still implied “but what if we could use all of the brain at once? #LIMITLESS”

Sources:

[1] “Parody”. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. Accessed 02 Aug 2017. (URL: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parody)

[2] “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources.” Zimdars, Melissa. 2016. Accessed 02 Aug 2017. (URL: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10eA5-mCZLSS4MQY5QGb5ewC3VAL6pLkT53V_81ZyitM/preview)

One comment

  1. Oh boy! They’re still at it! And they’re still ~LIMITLESS~, but not harping on the connection to a six-year-old movie. Also, they note at the top that it’s an “ADVERTORIAL”.

    (Archive link: http://archive.is/OlLod)

    EDIT: I forgot to mention that I found this as an advertisement on Fark, and that it notes that it is “Sponsored by MGID”, which is a native advertising company.

    Like

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