My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything—they’ll post everything, believe anything.
If Paul Horner didn’t invent “Fake News,” then certainly he brought it to (inter)national prominence; he even credited himself with getting Donald Trump elected. While some saw Horner—who regularly got his fake stories picked up by the mainstream media—as a slimy propagandist, he claimed it was all “satire.” He compared what he did as performance art on the level of Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk, as just a troll, as just a joke.
And now Horner, 38, is dead.
Horner was discovered deceased in his own bed on September 18th. Initial reports suggest this was an accidental drug overdose, but an official cause of death is still pending.
Some of his initial “greatest hits”—picked up by major news sites and/or viral on social media—included pretending he was the guerrilla artist Banksy, posing as a Facebook executive who was going to impose a “user’s fee,” and claiming he was being cast in “The Big Lebowski 2”.
Then things took a turn for the political. Horner circulated a “news” stories that Obama was going to open up a “Muslim museum” and invalidate the 2016 election. He wrote of “paid protesters” at Trump rallies, of how the Amish would win Trump the election. Many of his stories were embraced by the far right—seemingly backing up their own conspiracy theories—and even shared by people like Corey Lewandowski and Eric Trump, and outlets like Fox News.
Even if Horner’s work was indeed all a “joke”—or, as he once explained to CNN, some sort of “public service” to teach people the dangers of fake news itself—these jokes have a creepy way of manifesting in reality.
As my mom used to tell me, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
And though it’s not proven—it’s possible that he “got hurt” himself. Since Trump was elected, Horner has stated on multiple occasions that he regrets what he did. If this was an accidental (or purposeful) overdose on prescription medication…maybe the pressure of being “that guy,” that “fake news guy who got Trump elected,” was too much for Horner.
But the other side of the coin…well, perhaps not an actual physical “side,” but more like a highly theoretical one…is: did somebody “off” Paul Horner? Is somebody “cleaning up?”
Did someone or some entity, impressed with the early work of Horner, sort of make him a “deal” for that crucial election season?
Unfortunately, even if there was foul play that got covered up, thanks to the brave new world Horner himself helped create, it is now more easy than ever to have the mainstream news bypass any sort of deeper investigation. Because he did not only help get Trump elected. He also helped make any news story that has even a whiff of conspiracy-ness—a whiff of not being backed up by the “authorities”—be automatically voted down as “fake news” by the mainstream (well…except the Russia stuff). He laid the foundation for how mainstream search engines and social media hubs are going to filter out “fake news.”
This all started as a joke. This started as satire. But we live in interesting times, where pop-culture ephemera and throwaway cartoon memes and hipster religion parodies can suddenly—without warning—gain sentience.
It reminds me, in a way of the TV show Mr. Robot—with Paul Horner as this sort of Elliot Alderson character, who creates this whole world-changing anarchist movement but doesn’t quite realize what he has done.
But maybe I’m just confusing my fantasy and reality.