How Creative Commons Was Abused Ahead of The 2016 US Presidential Election

Yesterday I came across a piece of news from detailing how Facebook has decided to set up a “War Room” of over 20,000 employees to help combat the spread of fake news, misinformation and political propaganda ahead of the 2016 US mid-Term elections. This news, of course, came less than 3 days after more than 35 million US voting records across 19 states were posted for sale on the DarkNet – indicating that hackers may be looking to exploit voters/voting habits in different states over the weeks to come.

In a press release dated October 19th 2018, Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s Director of Product Management & Civic Engagement, explained how a team of over “20,000 employees and two dozen experts from across the company” will be providing “real-time monitoring on key elections issues, such as efforts to prevent people from voting, increases in spam, potential foreign interference, or reports of content that violates our policies. ” Going on to explain how the company will “also monitor news coverage and election-related activity across other social networks and traditional media. ” All of these efforts designed to eliminate or prevent the same threats which may or may not have compromised voters ahead of the 2016 US Presidential election.

But the headlines of the last week or so have got me reflecting however, about how news and information was able to be shared so easily and spread so wildly across social media platforms throughout the past – specifically on Facebook. As someone who was a content specialist and ghostwriter for one of the sources of the now infamous “Prop or Not List,” I observed first hand how information was distributed across different networks. With that established, I find it interesting that what almost no one has seemed to pick up on is how badly the Creative Common Licensing system was abused in the months/years leading up the 2016 Presidential election.

Before getting into that, for those of you whom might not be aware, Creative Commons is an “alternative” licensing system to Copyright Law, allowing artists, writers, designers, site owners – et cetera – to control how their intellectual property or work is shared or distributed by others. In many ways, Creative Commons is much simpler than Copyright Law and often times allows for different sources/publishers/writers to collaborate or share resources with one another entirely for free. In part, this collaborative sharing of resources is exactly how so much “Fake News” was allowed to spread  throughout the internet over the course of 2014 – 2016.

For example, look back at the ‘Prop of Not‘ list and then cross-reference how many of those sites used Creative Commons Licenses. We are talking about AnonHQ, AnoNews,The Anti-Media, True Activist, The Free Though Project – et cetera. These are all sites which literally had millions of followers on social media in 2015/2016, but have since either been blacklisted by Google or banned/deleted off of Facebook, or both, and each site collaborated with one another using Creative Commons Licenses. For example, I was required to sign each of my articles as the following: “This article (xxxx) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article using a creative commons license with attribution to the author and

Using that simple slug at the bottom of each article, theoretically any website or publisher could republish that article at zero cost or effort – only a simple copy and paste of the subject matter was needed. If you operated a pay-per-click website or website featuring a ton of advertisements for example, this means you generate money on each article you produce/publish. Quite simply, the more articles you published the more money you made. In this way, using Creative Commons, you could essentially make money for free by featuring or republishing someone else’s work. This is exactly how Creative Commons was abused for years and why so many of the websites on the ‘Prop or Not’ list utilized Creative Commons in the first place.

This is not to say that Creative Commons is corrupt in itself. In fact, there are many different versions of these licenses which limit the type/way content can be shared by publisher or website type, including making it illegal to republish certain work for profit – exactly as the ‘Prop or Not’ peoples did. For example, I have permission to custom edit and republish works from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch legally through Creative Commons on my site, only because I do not try to generate revenue from my site. The moment I enable advertisements, my license to republish their work gets revoked. In this way, it was only the most basic and open form of Creative Commons that was abused by for-profit news websites and organizations in the months/years leading up to the US Presidential Election. Potentially, it is also something to watch out for heading into the future.

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Brian Dunn

Writer, Researcher Owner: Rogue Media Labs | Rogue Security Labs (929)-319-2570 BrianDunn@RogueSecurityLabs.Ltd

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