Paul Horner, the 38-year-old writer behind the fake news site abc.com.co, has said that it’s “real scary” to think that his site may have influenced the US presidential election, specifically focusing upon Donald Trump supporters by saying that “they’ll believe anything.”
Horner says that his site is intended as satire, though it falls between satirical news posts and stories without a comedic tone that are clearly intended to misdirect readers. For example, it currently features a “breaking news” story on its front page which falsely claims that a “right wing extremist” had injured police officer in a shooting on capital hill. The site features a logo that clearly mirrors the real ABC News, and despite Horner’s protest, it is clearly intended to mislead readers. These sites have grown immensely popular due to their posts being widely shared on Facebook, which has now revealed that it will no longer be supporting them with their ad platform. Google is also prohibiting them from taking part in its AdSense program, which allows them to host ads from the search engine in order to generate revenue.
In an interview with Washington Post, Horner elaborated upon his intentions behind the site, claiming that he writes fake news posts in order to get people to share them, “then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots.” However, Horner added that Trump supporters hadn’t been fact-checking his posts whatsoever, and instead continued to share his content as though it were factual. My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time,” he said. “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.” Horner was referring to a tweet posted by Corey Lewandowski — who was fired by the Trump campaign in June — in which he shared an article from Horner’s site that falsely claimed a group was paying actors to protest the then-presidential candidate. Lewandowski deleted the tweet after the error was spotted.
With both Facebook and Google taking action against fake news sites, it’s inarguable that sites like Horner’s are having a much bigger impact than they did previously. “People are definitely dumber,” Horner said of the growing popularity of his site. “They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
However, with ad revenue for fake news sites being reevaluated, it seems that Horner’s day job could be in jeopardy very soon. Though he stated that he “hates Trump” and that he didn’t like to think he was responsible for him getting into office, he also states that it “would sick” if the reported $10,000 per month he earns from his fake news sites would be taken away from him.