Paul Horner once convinced the country he won the Powerball so people would stop buying tickets. He’s twice convinced the internet he’s the world-famous street artist, Banksy, imprisoned for vandalism. He’s stood at the forefront of the Facebook fake news epidemic, and been blamed for inadvertently getting Donald Trump elected president.
Paul Horner is the internet’s most prolific fake news creator. But contrary to popular opinion that fake news is a menace to society, Horner believes his work is doing the world a great favor. In order to see the good that can come from bullshit news stories, Rooster talked with Horner about his most successful hoaxes, how he effortlessly fools millions, and the honest outcomes of his outright lies.
FAPPY THE ANTI-MASTURBATION DOLPHIN
Among Horner’s proudest creations is Fappy the Anti-Masturbation dolphin, the beloved mascot for Stop Masturbation Now. “Using federal tax dollars, Fappy travels to elementary schools around the nation educating children about the dangers of masturbating,” Horner says over the phone, hardly able to contain his own laughter.
Several times, Horner’s viral news stories have suckered the internet into believing not only that Fappy is real, but also that Fappy was arrested for public masturbation. “Fappy has gotten busted for public masturbation like five times, but he keeps getting re-hired!” Horner says.
Horner’s work with Stop Masturbation Now is about more than just a pervert in a porpoise costume, though. The group’s satirical articles highlight the absurdity of fundamentalist Christian zealotry — real people who maintain that all the world’s most terrible problems stem from “sins” like abortion or homosexuality.
However, criticism of intolerant Bible-thumpers isn’t the only impetus keeping Horner involved with Stop Masturbation Now. “It’s both my disdain for religion and my love of masturbation that keep me going,” Horner says.
In India, Horner has a warrant out for his arrest. A couple years ago, he invented an elaborate story about a New Dehli Rape Festival, in which men all over India compete to rape the most women for a cash prize of one million dollars.
“The story got nearly a billion views and brought attention to a very serious issue,” Horner says. “In India, corrupt cops were telling women to just enjoy it if they’re raped. Laws required at least five witnesses to convict a rapist.”
Although the story of the rape festival was fake, the consequences were very real, Horner claims. “I attached a link to giveindia.org, a charity for Indian rape victims, and helped raise $250,000,” he says. The way Horner sees it, if fake news can convince countless schmucks to offer charitable donations, those stories are worth fabricating.
SWATTING AND THE KNOCKOUT GAME
Recently, a terrifying fad called “swatting” was becoming an increasingly popularized hate crime in which someone makes an anonymous report of a bomb or shooter at a victim’s address. The dangerous consequence: heavily-armed officers, such as a SWAT team, violently swarm the unsuspecting victim’s home.
In response to the troublesome trend, “I wrote a story about a 15-year-old swatter who went to prison because someone got killed,” Horner says. Unsurprisingly, the story spread like wildfire. "I think that played a good part in helping put an end to that nonsense," he says.
Horner used the same approach to combat public furor over “The Knockout Game,” in which teens attempt to knock out unwitting victims with a single punch to the head. “I wrote a story about an old lady who shot a Knockout Game attacker in the face,” Horner says. Once again, Horner contends, the grave consequences of his phony story played a part in ending the game’s playful publicity.
Among Horner’s Trump-related headlines to take on a life of their own during the 2016 election: “Trump Protester Speaks Out: ‘I Was Paid $3,500 to Protest Trump’s Rally,’” and “The Amish Commit Their Vote to Donald Trump; Mathematically Guaranteeing him a Presidential Victory.”
Trump’s supporters made for a very easy target in the midst of the election, Horner confesses. Even when the contents of the article contain little more than nonsensical tangents and commentary from Fappy the Anti-Masturbation Dolphin, the story is still shared by millions. Although Horner intended to embarrass those who were suckered by his blatantly false articles, that moment of humiliation never came. “They just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything!” He’s lamented to The Washington Post.
Among Horner’s headlines to circulate the internet after Trump’s election: “Donald Trump Signs Executive Order Cancelling Saturday Night Live,” and “Donald Trump Signs Executive Order Allowing the Hunting of Bald Eagles.”
Such an unpredictable president has been great for business, Horner admits. Now, there’s nothing he can’t write about that people won’t believe. “He does all my work for me. Every day, he does something so insane, even I can’t think of anything that good,” he laughs.
Horner maintains his articles are intended to criticize hateful ideologies, inspire charity, end dangerous cultural phenomena, and mock the self-affirming attitudes of stubborn political parties. He also insists his work is educating the American public. “It’s making people fact-check, making them smarter readers, and making them recognize the difference between opinion and fact,” Horner says.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Horner writes bogus stories out of pure selflessness. There’s a monetary incentive to creating bullshit news, too. In the midst of a viral news sensation, Horner can rake in up to $10,000 a month in ad revenue, plus some bonus income from selling merchandise. However, Horner stands resolute on the virtue of his satire.
“I’m prepared for people to not like what I’m doing. I know I’m on the right side of history,” Horner says. “I know what’s right and what’s wrong, and I’m going to continue speaking out against what’s evil.”