Despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s initial defense of his platform against claims it left fake news unchecked, thereby guiding Donald Trump to his election victory, both Facebook and Google have initiated crack downs against the viral peddlers. Unfortunately, these new measures have been deemed “too little, too late” by critics — especially since new information suggests that dishonest aggregators and hyperpartisan blogs generated far more traffic than legitimate news sources.
The majority of these propaganda-churning websites are based outside the United States, but as a revealing new article in the Washington Post reveals, just as many were housed right in the heart of America. And many of them are owned and operated by Paul Horner, a 38-year-old Facebook fake news entrepreneur whose name may sound familiar. (He convinced all of the Internet back in 2014 that anonymous artist Banksy had been arrested and exposed.) Post writer Caitlin Dewey spoke with Horner about his business and what effects (if any) it had on the election, and his responses are quite revealing — if not downright frightening.
Among other things, Horner boasts his social media-based network of fake news sites helped put Trump in the White House. Why? Because many of the President-elect’s most trusted advisers and surrogates shared links to many of his most successful stories, which were devoured by Trump’s trusting fanbase:
My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.
He even goes so far as to argue “people are definitely dumber” — Trump supporters especially. “They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore,” says Horner, adding: “It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
When the Post presses him about his reasoning for writing and spreading such egregiously false articles, Horner emphasizes his hatred for Trump and maintains a loose association with satirical sites like The Onion. Though he eventually admits “instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad]”:
You think you personally helped elect Trump?
I don’t know. I don’t know if I did or not. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I guess I’m curious, if you believed you might be having an unfair impact on the election — especially if that impact went against your own political beliefs — why didn’t you stop? Why keep writing?
I didn’t think it was possible for him to get elected president. I thought I was messing with the campaign, maybe I wasn’t messing them up as much as I wanted — but I never thought he’d actually get elected. I didn’t even think about it. In hindsight, everyone should’ve seen this coming — everyone assumed Hillary [Clinton] would just get in. But she didn’t, and Trump is president.
Minor moments of self-reflection notwithstanding, Horner ultimately reasons a Trump presidency will be “great for anybody who does anything with satire.” Not to mention his wallet. As he brags while discussing Facebook and Google’s recently announced changes to their sharing and AdSense programs, his falsified content makes almost $10,000 a month.
Hence why Horner mostly agrees with the new crack down, as he believes there are “many horrible sites out there” that lazily ploy readers into reading, believing in and sharing their content. Paradoxically, however, Horner claims he doesn’t “just write fake news just to write it” as his work requires more time and attention. It’s all just satire after all, right?
(Via the Washington Post)