Earlier this week, you might have seen a list of fake and satirical news sites. The list, compiled by Melissa Zimdars, PhD, an assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College, is intended to make it easier to identify a fake news post on Facebook when you see one. Paul Horner, 38, is the creator of one of those sites, abc.news.com.co. Horner's fake articles have included "Donald Trump Protester Speaks Out: 'I Was Paid $3,500 To Protest Trump’s Rally,'" "Obama Signs Executive Order Declaring Investigation Into Election Results; Revote Planned For Dec. 19th," and "Gay Wedding Mobile Vans Cashing In On The Legalization Of Gay Marriage."
In an interview published today in The Washington Post, Horner says that he "hate[s] Trump" and that his articles were intended to make conservative supporters "look like idiots" for believing what he wrote. "I thought they'd fact-check it, and it'd make them look worse," Horner told the Washington Post. "Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad]." Whether or not Horner and other fake news sites spread across Facebook influenced the election is a hot topic of debate. Mark Zuckerberg denies it, but says he will take steps to stop the spread of fake news. President Obama, meanwhile, says that yes, these articles — which, BuzzFeed reports, received more traffic than election coverage from 19 major news organizations combined — did affect the outcome of the election. When you look at Horner's articles, many of which are attributed to a fake ABC News reporter, Jimmy Rustling (the name is likely a play on a popular meme), they could easily be misconstrued as being legitimate. The site's logo is similar to that of the real ABC News, and if you miss the telling ".co" at the end of the domain name, you could make the mistake that many — including Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, and his son, Eric Trump — have made. Both tweeted a link to Horner's fake protestor article. Despite saying that he believes he helped Trump win, Horner still doesn't seem to fully grasp what he has done and continues to do. He sees his posts as satirical works of art, with "purpose and meaning" behind them. That is how he distinguishes himself from other fake news writers, who he said lack both qualities. For this reason, Horner told The Washington Post, "I’m glad [Facebook is] getting rid of those sites. I just hope they don’t get rid of mine, too." In other words, Horner will continue putting out fake articles, and that's fine, because he puts time into them? What Horner needs to understand is that he's not doing what The Onion and other clearly satirical sites are doing; he is using all means at his disposal, including deceptive ABC News credentials, to trick readers. His site isn't humorous; it's just misleading. And that's not okay.