Social media remains fertile ground for con artists as promoted tweets rip off the broadcaster’s image in a bitcoin swindle.
It’s not unusual for New Zealand Twitter users to encounter the face of Mike Hosking as they scroll through their streams, but this morning, it hasn’t just been the usual of links to op-eds, uproar and assorted pisstakes.
Dozens of images of the controversial, award-winning Newstalk ZB broadcaster have accompanied tweets with salivating morsels of text such as, “He just dropped massive news and the hype is at an all-time”, “The Biggest ScandaI is On Live Broadcast –I am done”, and “This wasn’t supposed to be shown On live TV”, and “It was only after the interview that she understood what had just been said. The authorities are furious and the producers are trying to take action”.
More than 100 Spinoff readers have sent examples of the tweets appearing in their feeds today. Some said they had been “bombarded” with the posts.
All of them are “promoted tweets” and are only popping up in people’s timelines because they’re paid advertisements. Needless to say, they’re scams, with Hosking’s image appropriated in an attempt to lure people on to a hoax NZ Herald website where they might be conned into a bitcoin scheme.
If you think this sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. As The Spinoff reported earlier this year, bitcoin scammers have for some time now stolen the images of high-profile people to promote their bogus schemes on social media. Hosking leads the pack in New Zealand, however. He’s been used in disinformation advertising on both Facebook and Google – appearing across the social media giant and via Google ads on publications including the Guardian.
Similar crypto-currency scams have sprung up around the world for years now. Among the New Zealand public figures swept up in the scam are Hayley Holt, Richie McCaw, John Key, Graeme Hart, Annabel Langbein and Jacinda Ardern.
Following the story in February, Hosking told his breakfast radio audience: “Can I just thank, quickly, The Spinoff … They did a big piece on this ongoing shambles that Google and Facebook are running, and refuse to do really anything about, despite the fact they said they do.”
“Somebody, somewhere is paying Google and Facebook to run these ads, so there’s money involved, so they take the money, then they pretend they care about privacy and stuff like that when no such thing is true,” said Hosking.
“To my mind, the ads are just so painfully, obviously false and fraudulent, and yet people I would regard as moderately intelligent, regular, ordinary, everyday people have been completely and utterly sucked in by them. So that part worries me because I don’t want to cause any difficulty to anybody, financially or otherwise, because some loser wants to make money off my name or my image.”
Concerns around the spread of fabricated and hoax news, disinformation, and its spread via social media have sharpened amid the global health pandemic of Covid-19. Meanwhile, New Zealand media, like many around the world, continue to raise concerns about offshore online giants, their impact on business models and the responsible dissemination of news.
In February, NZME, which owns both the Herald and Newstalk ZB, said the company had noted an “exponential growth in fake and fraudulent content including ads, pages, profiles, etc, on media sites”.
“This is an issue targeting not just us, but media outlets and high profile media personalities in general. The moderation of these fake ads is initially the responsibility of the relevant ad network as they place the ads programmatically.
“The trust readers put in our content is a priority, so as a company we are investing time and money to remove fake content and reduce the frequency of such issues.”
Twitter has been approached for comment.