Who do you believe when a famous internet hoaxer is said to be dead? – Chicago Tribune

Paul Horner may have fooled you into thinking he was someone else. He pretended to be the real person behind Banksy — twice. He pretended to win a massive Powerball jackpot. And he pretended to be a teenager who was sent to prison on domestic terrorism charges for “swatting” a video game opponent.

Horner was one of the oldest and best-known creators of fake news on the internet. He earned a living writing semi-believable nonsense for a series of fake news sites with official-looking domain names, like abcnews.com.co or cnn.com.de. If an experienced hoax-watcher saw his name in a viral but unconfirmed news article rocketing around Facebook, it was an immediate clue that the story might be just another one of his fictions.

So when Horner’s brother announced in a Facebook post last week that the writer had suddenly died, many seemed to suspect that his death might be just another one of Horner’s hoaxes. An article in the Phoenix New Times covering the family announcement of the Phoenix-area writer’s death even carried a disclaimer over the weekend noting that the paper had been unable to confirm Horner’s death with anyone except for his family — the medical examiner’s office wouldn’t be open until Monday, they explained.

Like many reporters who had written about Horner’s hoaxes before, I couldn’t decide whether I believed what I was reading when I first saw the announcement on Sunday. I reached out to the police to make a request for, essentially, proof that a Paul Horner had died in Phoenix, and that he was the one I was looking for. It was a macabre request, but that sort of second guessing speaks to the reach of Horner’s work. Death hoaxes are common on the internet, maybe Horner was trying to one-up his competition by fooling the media into writing about his own.


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