Paul Horner, a writer who became notorious for peddling "fake news" during the 2016 US election campaign has died at 38. He was found dead in his bed in Laveen, Arizona, on 18 September, after a suspected drug overdose.
Paul Horner (November 5, 1978 – September 18, 2017) was an American writer, comedian and contributor to fake news websites whose stories have been said to have had a significant impact on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Horner was the lead writer of the website National Report. One of his widest-spread fake stories was a piece claiming, “artist Banksy had been arrested and his identity revealed as Paul Horner”, which Horner posted in 2013 and was re-circulated in 2014 and once again in 2017.
Horner is still listed as a possible suspect behind Banksy's true identity. His stories had an "enormous impact" on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, they consistently appeared in Google's top news search results, were shared widely on Facebook, and were taken seriously and shared by third parties such as Trump presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Eric Trump, ABC News, and Fox News. Horner later claimed that his work during this period was intended "to make Trump's supporters look like idiots for sharing my stories".
In December 2016, while speaking on Anderson Cooper 360°, Horner said that all news is fake news and called CNN "fake news", which was one month before Donald Trump levelled the same criticism at that network.
Fake news was a major concern during and after the US presidential campaign.
Among Horner's creations was a false claim that former President Barack Obama was both gay and a radical Muslim.
Trump's son Eric, and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, posted one of Horner's fake news items about protesters being paid $3,000 to demonstrate against the Republican candidate.
Many of Horner's sites, such as newsexaminer.net, had names falsely suggesting legitimacy. However, Horner defended his work as "political satire".
"There's a lot of humour and comedy in it," he told CNN in December. "I do it to try to educate people. I see certain things wrong in society that I don't like and different targets."
His brother JJ Horner posted on Facebook that he had died in his sleep at his mother's house, describing the writer as "an internet wizard, a humanitarian, an activist, a philosopher, a comedian".
A Maricopa County sheriff's office spokesman, Mark Casey, later confirmed the death and said an autopsy had shown no signs of foul play. He said Horner had a history of prescription drug abuse and that "evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose".
After coming under pressure, sites such as Facebook have been working with US investigators to track down the authors of misinformation on the internet and establish whether they aimed to sway voters. zz
In an interview with the Washington Post in November, Horner said: "I think Trump is in the White House because of me. "My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time... His followers don't fact-check anything - they'll post everything, believe anything."
Our assessment is that, Horner was known as one of the biggest publishers of fake news and internet hoaxes, creating many stories that went viral and fooled thousands on Facebook. His hoaxes were often repeated by political figures and news outlets that failed to fact-check his claims. What was his motive behind the hoaxes? Did he just want people to think for themselves and be responsible for their actions?