This past election was defined by the electorate’s engagement with social media and a rejection of mainstream news sources. The traditional sources of information were replaced by social-media based blogs, many of which offered news that was either vastly misleading or entirely false.
Those fake news websites ended up having a significant effect on the public perception of the election, and one of the primary culprits has admitted that his hoaxes may have helped give President-elect Trump his shocking electoral college victory.
Paul Horner, the founder of the fake website abcnews.com.co, spoke to the Washington Post about the role his website played in misleading a gullible electorate and how Donald Trump supporters truly will believe anything.
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.
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].
Inspired by Horner’s success, copycat right-wing blogs sprouted like weeds, including ones run by teenagers in Macedonia, all jumping on the click-bait gravy train and spreading horrendous lies about Trump’s success (“Trump was endorsed by the Pope!”) and about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, like how she “sold weapons to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)” and how laws disqualified her from “holding any elected office” or how an FBI agent looking into her emails was “found dead in a murder-suicide.” None of that is true.
We’ve officially entered the post-truth era, where the truth doesn’t matter and fact-checkers are the enemy. Donald Trump, who centered his entire presidential campaign on outrageous lies – sometimes as many as forty falsehoods a day – is now our president, and we only have our gullible selves to blame.
But what’s worse is that after eight years of virulent and misleading FOX News propaganda, the fake news epidemic has helped construct this anti-intellectual space fertile for manipulation by authoritarian propagandists, as Hannah Arendt remarks in her book the Origins of Totalitarianism.
“Totalitarian propaganda conjures up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda… lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”
If we are to save our Republic, we must restore credibility to the press and fight tooth and nail to burst the delusional bubble of misinformation that Trump supporters exist in.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.