No, this is not an Onion article. This is real life.
Paul Horner, 38, has been writing completely made-up news on his “satire” site abcnews.com.co (which even uses a logo designed to mimic the real ABC News logo) for year. But he is just now realizing the damage fake news disguised as real news can do.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected,” Horner told the Washington Post in an interview published Thursday. “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.”
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me,” Horner said. “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.”
If you’re wondering why Horner would even write such a thing — and are perhaps even more puzzled as to why he’d create an ad on Craigslist, which essentially validates his claim in the eyes of any amateur fact checker — it’s because Trump supporters “were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies,” he says.
“And that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump,” Horner added. “I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.”
If you’re currently staring at this story and screaming, “OF COURSE THEY BELIEVED IT! YOU WROTE IT AS FACT AND EVEN MADE A FAKE CRAIGSLIST AD TO BACK IT UP,” Horner wants you to know that he thought his brand of “satire” would actually hurt the Trump campaign by making his supporters look stupid.
“I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean, that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots,” Horner said. “But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].”
Horner said he runs 10 sites that pollute the internet with fake headlines like “Breaking: Capitol Hill Shooter Identified as Right-Wing Extremist” and “Fireman Suspended & Jailed By Atheist Mayor For Praying At Scene Of Fire”, and that he makes about $10,000 a month from Google AdSense.
That may end soon: Google says it will no longer allow companies that run fake news to use its online advertising service.
Horner said he hopes his sites don’t get lumped in with “total BS sites,” because despite his recent epiphany that people are taking his disinformation as fact, he still plans on continuing to write it.
“I like getting lumped in with The Onion,” Horner said. “The stuff I do — I spend more time on it. There’s purpose and meaning behind it. I don’t just write fake news just to write it.”
When asked if he sees Trump’s presidency as a good thing “from a business perspective,” he answered, “It’s great for anybody who does anything with satire.”
True, if they’re actually doing satire. Horner’s next sentence, however, suggests he has a fundamental misunderstanding of what satire is.
“There’s nothing you can’t write about now that people won’t believe. I can write the craziest thing about Trump, and people will believe it,” he continued. “I wrote a lot of crazy anti-Muslim stuff — like about Trump wanting to put badges on Muslims, or not allowing them in the airport, or making them stand in their own line — and people went along with it!”
Satire is defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. But good satirists want their audience to be in on the joke, as opposed to taking the joke literally. Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat,” for example, wasn’t a comedy designed to make movie theater audiences think his character was real, but rather he used the fake character to illuminate very real racism and stupidity plaguing the country.
“Obama Signs Executive Order Declaring Investigation Into Election Results; Revote Planned For Dec. 19th,” isn’t clever commentary on the truth. It’s just untrue.