Fake-news pioneer Paul Horner, whose hoaxes drew international attention on the Internet and during the 2016 presidential election, died in Phoenix on Sept. 18, officials confirmed. He was 38.
For at least six years, Horner sprayed the Internet with intentionally false stories designed to inflame readers. Those stories often went viral on Facebook, allowing him to misinform tens or hundreds of thousands of people — including eventual voters — from his Phoenix apartment.
"All the stuff I write has a moral purpose of targeting things I don’t like in society," Horner told The Arizona Republic in a September 2016 interview. "Anybody who gets tricked by my stuff is people that I’m targeting, trying to make them change the way they think."
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Casey said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that there were no signs of foul play in Horner's death, which is under investigation.
"Interviews with Mr. Horner’s family indicate the deceased was known to use and abuse prescription drugs.  Evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose," the statement said. 
Horner died in the Laveen area of southwest Phoenix. His brother, JJ, said in a Facebook post that Paul died peacefully and in his sleep.
Paul Horner also was a stand-up comedian and host of a downtown Phoenix comedy show called "Mystery Show," which attracted a few dozen attendees each show. But once Horner's fake news gained traction online, his infamous influence spread throughout the country.
"There’s nothing that I’m putting out now that’s not getting at least 20 to 50 thousand views," Horner said last year. "And that’s not really viral. A hundred-thousand is viral."

Spreading a fake-news empire

Using official-sounding domain names like CNN.co.de and Microsoftsite.com, Horner’s stories swerved from over-the-top jokes to political firebombs, namely the super-viral "Donald Trump Protester Speaks Out: 'I Was Paid $3,500 To Protest Trump's Rally."
His stories followed a simple formula: Use a famous name, include a real photo and make at least the first few sentences read like a standard news story. That way, his stories would have credibility before readers began to doubt.
"Anybody can write a story," Horner said. "I’ll make sure the first couple paragraphs are always super-legit. The title will be legit, the image when you share it on Facebook will look super-legit, everything will look super-real, perfect. And then after that, I’ll just gradually have more and more ridiculous bulls--t."
Many of his hoaxes were picked up by news outlets and political players who failed to fact-check the claims.