During the presidential election of 2016, Paul Horner published some of the most popular “fake news” stories, i.e. stories that were factually and provably false. For Horner, these stories helped president Trump get elected. Unfortunately for him, the fake news writer had a serious problem with prescription drugs: he would abuse them. At the age of 38, he was found dead on September 18th, according to CBS News.
Horner’s stories were shared across a wide network of websites. For example, there was ABCNews.com.co, a site that would make people assume they were reading news stories from ABC News. The stories he wrote about were quite diverse, ranging from the fake executive order supposedly signed by President Obama to the story of the paid protesters at Trump rallies. These stories have been read and shared by hundreds of thousands of people across the internet.
Horner told the Washington Post in November that
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me,”
He also added about them:
“His followers don’t fact-check anything—they’ll post everything, believe anything.”
Horner made a lot of money from his fake news business from his residence of Phoenix. He would make around $10,000 per month from advertising during the presidential elections.
According to CBS News, Horner’s cause of death is still pending, and the autopsy indicates there were
“no signs of foul play.”
A spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office told CBS News that,
“evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose.”
In December, Horner appeared on CNN to defend his way of life to Anderson Cooper. For him, CNN and Fox News helped spreading fake news, at a crucial difference: for him, they have agendas, whereas his own fake news were clearly satirical.
Paul Horner’s brother, J.J. Horner, also defended his brother’s fake news empire by saying that he simply wanted people to think critically before sharing things that might be fake online.
His brother told CBS News:
“I think he just wanted people to just think for themselves and be credible for their actions,” and “Read more, get more involved instead of just blindly sharing things.”
After the election, Horner said that he supported Hillary Clinton and didn’t believe Trump would get elected. For him, the real issue was with people not fact-checking and making stories viral, more than with his fake news stories, per se.
Horner told the Washington Post that:
“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.”