“President Donald Trump signs an executive order allowing the hunting of bald eagles,” a headline from the St. George Gazette blared last month.
The headline was fake — as is the St. George Gazette, a pseudo local news organization that’s one of a handful of spoof-generating sites run by entrepreneur Paul Horner from his home in Arizona. Yet, Trump declaring open season on bald eagles story was widely shared, following the life cycle of inflammatory fake news stories that were frequently shared during the run-up to last year’s election.
But this time something different happened.
About a week after the story posted, fact checkers at Snopes.com and FactCheck.org saw the story was being flagged by users and debunked it. After that, any time the link was posted or shared on Facebook, the social network showed this message beneath the headline: “Disputed by Snopes.com and FactCheck.org.”
“There’s definitely been a huge change, a dramatic change,” Horner told USA TODAY by phone last month. “It’s hurt my wallet for sure with how difficult it is now to get something to go viral and people so quick to call things fake news.”
Facebook and Google came under fire late last year for allowing their networks and advertising programs to distribute and amplify fake news stories during the U.S. presidential election. In response, they said they’ve been cracking down on false stories and hoaxes, inking deals with fact-checking organizations, making it easier for users to report fake stories and choking economic incentives for fake news producers.
The snowball effect of these measures has been felt by Horner, the owner of ABCNews.com.co, CNN.com.de, the St. George Gazette and about 13 additional fake news domains. He’s been interviewed by almost every major media outlet since the election and is even writing a book about fake news. He told The Washington Post after the election that he was making nearly $10,000 a month from fake news alone.
After authoring widely shared fake stories about the entire Amish population voting for Trump and Twitter deleting Trump’s account, he told The Washington Post he felt…