Did Fake News put Trump in the White House?

November 17, 2016


This is all a dream, right?


In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York TimesWashington PostHuffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. (This analysis focused on the top performing link posts for both groups of publishers, and not on total site engagement on Facebook. For details on how we identified and analyzed the content, see the bottom of this post. View our data here.)

Washington Post:

Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year.

But in recent months, Horner has found the fake-news ecosystem growing more crowded, more political and vastly more influential: In March, Donald Trump’s son Eric and his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, even tweeted links to one of Horner’s faux-articles. His stories have also appeared as news on Google.

In light of concerns that stories like Horner’s may have affected the presidential election, and in the wake of announcements that both Google and Facebook would take action against deceptive outlets, Intersect called Horner to discuss his perspective on fake news. This transcript has been edited for clarity, length and — ahem — bad language.

You’ve been writing fake news for a while now — you’re kind of like the OG Facebook news hoaxer. Well, I’d call it hoaxing or fake news. You’d call it parody or satire. How is that scene different now than it was three or five years ago? Why did something like your story about Obama invalidating the election results (almost 250,000 Facebook shares, as of this writing) go so 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.

You mentioned Trump, and you’ve probably heard the argument, or the concern, that fake news somehow helped him get elected. What do you make of that?

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.

Why? I mean — why would you even write that?

Just ’cause his supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump. I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.

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. 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].

You think you personally helped elect Trump?

I don’t know. I don’t know if I did or not. I don’t know. I don’t know.

I guess I’m curious, if you believed you might be having an unfair impact on the election — especially if that impact went against your own political beliefs — why didn’t you stop? Why keep writing?

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.

Speaking of Clinton — did you target fake news at her supporters? Or Gary Johnson’s, for that matter? (Horner’s Facebook picture shows him at a rally for Johnson.) 

No. I hate Trump.

Is that it? You posted on Facebook a couple weeks ago that you had a lot of ideas for satirizing Clinton and other figures, but that “no joke . . . in doing this for six years, the people who clicked ads the most, like it’s the cure for cancer, is right-wing Republicans.” That makes it sound like you’ve found targeting conservatives is more profitable.

Yeah, it is. They don’t fact-check.

But a Trump presidency is good for you from a business perspective, right?

It’s great for anybody who does anything with satire — 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. 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!

Facebook and Google recently announced that they’d no longer let fake-news sites use their advertising platforms. I know you basically make your living from those services. How worried are you about this?

This whole Google AdSense thing is pretty scary. And all this Facebook stuff. I make most of my money from AdSense — like, you wouldn’t believe how much money I make from it. Right now I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense.

I know ways of getting hooked up under different names and sites. So probably if they cracked down, I would try different things. I have at least 10 sites right now. If they crack down on a couple, I’ll just use others. They could shut down advertising on all my sites, and I think I’d be okay. Plus, Facebook and AdSense make a lot of money from [advertising on fake news sites] for them to just get rid of it. They’d lose a lot of money.

But if it did really go away, that would suck. I don’t know what I would do.

Thinking about this less selfishly, though — it might be good if Facebook and Google took action, right? Because the effects you’re describing are pretty scary.

Yeah, I mean — a lot of the sites people are talking about, they’re just total BS sites. There’s no creativity or purpose behind them. I’m glad they’re getting rid of them. I don’t like getting lumped in with Huzlers. I like getting lumped in with the Onion. 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.

So, yeah, I see a lot of the sites they’re listing, and I’m like — good. There are so many horrible sites out there. I’m glad they’re getting rid of those sites.

I just hope they don’t get rid of mine, too.



Buzzfeed again:

One example is the remarkably successful, utterly untrustworthy site Ending the Fed. It was responsible for four of the top 10 false election stories identified in the analysis: Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS, Hillary Clinton being disqualified from holding federal office, and the FBI director receiving millions from the Clinton Foundation. These four stories racked up a total of roughly 2,953,000 Facebook engagements in the three months leading up to Election Day.

Ending the Fed gained notoriety in August when Facebook promoted its story about Megyn Kelly being fired by Fox News as a top trending item. The strong engagement the site has seen on Facebook may help explain how one of its stories was featured in the Trending box.

The site, which does not publicly list an owner or editor, did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.


13 Responses to “Did Fake News put Trump in the White House?”

  1. kingregius Says:


    • Would that be due to your inability to admit that it was the Democrats, with their rigged convention, are actually the ones who put an otherwise unelectable Trump into the Whitehouse, when a much-loved / email server scandal-free Bernie Sanders / Elizabeth Warren ticket could have run over Trump like a runaway Mack truck?

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Hell has just frozen over. I actually agree with you about something.

      • otter17 Says:

        It is possible such a ticket would have made a much better showing. Still, Clinton won the popular vote by a respectable margin, though it should have been a 20million plus blowout.

      • redskylite Says:

        Bullshit, Trump was tainted by “Pussy Grabbing” and “Tax avoidance” yet he triumphed. Clinton’s careless use of technology was minor in comparison, although I hope the party has learnt a lesson for the future. Was Sanders truly a saint ?, if he had been there instead of Clinton are you sure that digging would not have found something. Cook is playing with you, a proportion of the republicans had loudly and vocally rejected Trump as a decent candidate. I suspect Cook is eagerly awaiting his fossil fuel interests to develop further, that is all. Don’t let him fool you, “Hell Has not Frozen over yet”.

      • You might want to check out a recent article by Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek. In case you don’t know, he extensively researched Trump this election and wrote a fair number of devastating articles on what he found.

        His Trump articles included:

        * Why Vladimir Putin’s Russia Is Backing Donald Trump (Nov. 4, 2016)
        * Donald Trump’s Tax Records: A Tale of Business Failures (Oct. 5, 2016)
        * How Donald Trump Ditched U.S. Steel Workers in Favor of China (Oct. 3, 2016)
        * Miami Herald Deceives Readers on Trump’s 1998 Cuba (Oct. 1, 2016)
        * Donald Trump Still Won’t Tell the Truth About Cuba (Sep. 30, 2016)
        * How Donald Trump’s Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba (Sep. 29, 2016)
        * How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security (Sep. 14, 2016)

        But now Newsweek has published:

        The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them the Presidential Election (Nov. 14, 2016)

        Much of it deals with claims that the DNC rigged things against Sanders, e.g., the number of debates between the Democratic runners being too low (which was originally 6, like 2004, 2008 and 2012, before being bumped up to 9), emails (all but one of which were from May, but by May 3, Sanders needed 984 more delegates and only 933 were available), etc..

        Anyway, there are good reasons to think that Clinton would have won if it weren’t for voter suppression, the media fetish with her emails and the bad “optics” of her charity organization, and both Russian and late FBI involvement in the election. Especially the last of these — as she seemed to overcome the rest prior to Comey coming out with the emails on Weiner’s computer eleven days before the election and acted as so much innuendo for nine crucial days before Comey proclaimed that they had turned out to be nothing. Early on I supported Sanders — as he went down the climate checklist and that is what mattered most to me. However, Clinton had detailed policy positions, a stellar performance in the national debates against Trump, and an excellent ground campaign.

  2. It is nothing short of horrific that fake news was responsible for the election of the most dangerous, unqualified candidate in our history.

    Can we do anything about the election? Probably not, but if we do nothing, it will happen again.

    I’ve read numerous articles on this issue recently. Zuckerberg was aware of the fake news on FB, and evidently shrugged and said ‘meh’. He still doesn’t accept responsibility for the most egregious election interference ever.

    God help us.

  3. And another thing……

    Thanks to the fake news site, Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg, Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan is now getting ready to destroy the social safety net under the guise of his “Poverty Plan”, beginning with Medicare.


    This is just freaking unbelievable, like something you see in a damn movie.

  4. redskylite Says:

    Fake news has been around for a long time and is widely used in our new online world. People with motivation try to manipulate, divide get us dancing to their tunes. I think the human mind is bright enough to see through it all eventually.

    I’m getting weary of the partisan spirit, even the loyalty to certain personalities with in a party. In RealClimate Prof David Archer puts the Science vs Politics in perspective. The election is over Trump won it, we must move forward instead of crying over spilt milk.

    “If you are in a new-found panic about the future of Earth’s climate, know that what you’re feeling now would still have been almost as appropriate had the election gone the other way. The fight to defend Earth’s climate would still be just beginning.”


  5. […] Source: Did Fake News put Trump in the White House? | Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

  6. andrewfez Says:

    Look at some of the ‘real news’ stories on the graphic though; they’re just as fake and misleading as the fake news stories:

    Stop Pretending Like You Don’t Know Why People Hate H Clinton (Huffington Post)

    Huff Post had the chances of Clinton winning at something like 97 or 98% right before the election, incidentally.

    Huff Post’s premise is flawed. They say people don’t like Clinton because they’re sexists that don’t want a woman to be president. That’s not only wrong, that’s projection: there was a large third wave radical feminist push for Clinton against Sanders specifically because she was a woman – Laci Green (Sex Plus, MTV), Lena Dunham (HBO), Anita Sarkeesian(Media Critic), etc. – and never mind her corruption. Sanders was more in line with their philosophy than Clinton, yet they backed the latter.

    Huff Post goes on to say ‘Well Obama was a corrupt Bankster, and people liked him, so when people don’t like Hillary for being a corrupt Bankster, they are really just being sexist.’ Nope, Obama duped people who are hungry for Hope and Change away from the establishment that is destroying the middle class. And when the voters didn’t get what they wanted, but instead another corporate shill who let Citi Bank pick his cabinet for him (thank you Jordan Cheritan at TYT Politics for covering this), and when they saw how evil the establishment was as they sought to assassinate Sanders, a true progressive, they lost significant faith in the weak, corporate Dems and the system (fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me). And note how Huff Post is almost trying to normalize the unbelievable level of corruption in the present system, just to cover for the Clinton Machine.

    No, Huff Post, we are after 40 years of bad policy, at the inflection point, at the critical mass, where people want a real populist to stop the Reaganomics, stop the corruption, and are willing to take angry swings at the establishment if they don’t get it. People don’t like Clinton because she voted for the Bankruptcy Bill after Wall St. funded her campaign, she voted for the Iraq War, for the unconstitutional Patriot Act, because the Clinton Foundation is pay to play, because she armed human rights violators, because she said black people were ‘Super Predators that must be brought to heal,’ in order to justify the expansion of the private prison system, because she’s against universal healthcare, &c.

    And the reason we know these things is not because of the MSM, but because of the rise of new independent media that has no conflicts of interest, who are willing to focus on the policy without being partisan hacks to the Democratic Party or corporations. This is the reason old establishment media is dying. Look at that engagement number on the graphic for old media. It ain’t going up.

    • andrewfez Says:

      And if we don’t start backing Elizabeth Warren for 2020 starting day 1, but instead go with another corporate hack the Washington Post is suggesting, the selfsame thing that just happened will happen again.

  7. skeptictmac57 Says:

    I wish people would quit trying to point to ‘the one’ reason why Trump won. That just sets you up for missing other important key factors that could again be missed the next time around.
    This election was decided by a razor thin margin of popular votes (as opposed to electoral margin) in key swing states, while the popular vote in safe (for Clinton) states put her in the lead nationwide (about 1,440,000) as of today). So practically ANY factor no matter how small, made a difference.
    This is like trying to figure out which particular withdrawal from a bank during a run on the bank caused it to fail. Every difference makes a difference in such a narrow loss as this. They all mattered!

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