In the wake of the horrifying presidential election, a lot of people have been pinning the blame for Trump’s rise to power on the proliferation of completely fabricated news stories that casually play into readers’ worst fears about political candidates and their supporters. Normally, someone being stupid and falling for a hoax isn’t a big deal, but thanks to changes Facebook made to how its “Trending” section works over the summer, these fake stories were able to spread significantly further than they probably would’ve otherwise. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t convinced that it’s a problem, but now that both Facebook and Google are changing the way advertising works for fake news sties, it’s clear that whatever they were doing before wasn’t working.
Other than Trump and his cohorts, though, the one guy who has benefited from this spread of fake news more than anyone is Paul Horner, a man who seems to consider himself a master of satirical wit but is more like a huckster selling the Facebook-equivalent of snake oil to your gullible friends and relatives. He’s the visionary behind a whole swarm of fake news sites that all have names like ABCNews.com.co, and you might remember him from last year when NBC sent him a cease-and-desist order over his NBC.com.co website—which helped spread such bullshit as “Yelp Sues South Park for $10 million” and “Obama Endorses Donald Trump For President.”
The Washington Post tracked down Horner in his non-comedic house of lies to talk about the spread of fake news and whether or not he thinks he had a hand in getting Trump elected. As for why this stuff is more popular than ever, he explains that “people are definitely dumber” and that “nobody fact-checks anything anymore,” which is sort of like saying it’s your fault for stepping on the bag of dog poop when all he did was set it on fire and put it on your porch. He also admits that Trump supporters are the worst at this, because “they’ll post anything” and “believe anything,” including a story about anti-Trump protestors being paid off that was retweeted by Corey Lewandowski, the guy CNN hired to talk about the news while he was still on Trump’s payroll.
Horner, displaying a surprising confidence in Facebook users, says he thought Trump supporters would eventually catch on that his stories were fake and then “look like idiots” for sharing them, but that never happened. “They just keep running with it,” he said. “Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it.” The Washington Post pressed him on this point, asking if he thinks he personally helped elect Trump, but all Horner can muster is “I don’t know. I don’t know if I did or not. I don’t know. I don’t know.” (In other words, yes.)
Going back to Facebook and Google changing their advertising policies, Horner says it’s “pretty scary.” Right now, he makes “like $10,000 a month” from Google’s AdSense, and there’s a good chance that will all be drying up soon. He’s not too concerned, though, because he has “ways of getting hooked up under different names and sites,” so even if Google shuts down his ads on a bunch of sites, he’ll “just use others.” His mission to trick people into looking stupid and also to make $120,000 a year is simply too important to abandon.
Finally, Horner reveals that he has more of a knack for comedy than he previously let on, explaining that he likes “getting lumped in with The Onion” because, unlike other fake news outlets, there is “purpose and meaning” behind the stories he writes. “I don’t just write fake news just to write it,” he adds, presumably with a devilish grin and a playful wink.