“Fake news” has become a big topic of discussion since the election. Shortly before Americans went to the polls, Buzzfeed did a story highlighting some of the sites on both the left and right that profit from pitching highly distorted and even totally false stories to their readers. And now Buzzfeed is looking at the topic again, saying that Facebook engagement on fake news stories dwarfed the engagement on real news during the final weeks of the election.
One of the most prolific posters of fake news on Facebook is a 38-year-old named Paul Horner. Make no mistake, Horner is no fan of Trump. As the hit man might say just before he empties his gun into you, “Nothing personal, it’s just business.” Horner runs a small empire of sites that push his fake stories, and that he says earn him over $10,000 a month.
Love him or hate him for the garbage that he spreads, Horner makes some observations about social media consumers that should make everyone stop and reflect for a moment, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.
Here is how Horner explained to The Washington Post why his Facebook posts go viral.
Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. 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.
As someone who has been in the blogosphere for over three years now, writing the truth from a liberal perspective, I can tell you that Horner is exactly right about people passing things around without checking. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have seen something I have written be shared over a thousand times on Facebook, yet only viewed and read several hundred times. In fact, it is completely typical for the average blog post to receive much more interaction on Facebook than actual views on the story.
Horner has a dim view of Trump supporters:
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. 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.
The most curious thing about Horner’s revelations is that he didn’t do what he did to help Trump. In fact, he says he hates the president-elect. When asked by the Post why he didn’t stop writing when he realized he may be having an unfair impact on the election, Horner gave the same reply that we have heard from so many over the past eight days — “I didn’t think it was possible for him to get elected president.”
So, who gets the blame? Horner, for writing what he calls “satire” that he believed would be quickly fact-checked and debunked? Facebook for allowing it to be seen by tens of thousands of people? The people who shared the most outrageous stories because they didn’t bother to fact-check? Or the fact that in recent years there have been so many outrageous things uttered by politicians and other public figures that nothing surprises anybody anymore? We are truly living in a “post-factual” world, and that should be of concern to us all.
Featured image via Facebook