Perhaps in an earlier time, just the name RealTrueNews would have given some pause. But the name, and style, of Marco Chacon‘s fake conservative news site sounded so similar to thing it’s meant to parody–conservative sites with a tenuous connection to reality–that its intended audience believed the joke.
And this isn’t the case of a liberal trying to get a laugh out of suckering conservatives. Chacon, as Ben Collins describes in his piece in The Daily Beast, is a moderate Republican, as well as “a 47-year-old veteran infantryman, father, bank executive,” who “saw it all over his Facebook feed, and he was sick of it.”
The it he was sick of was alt-right and right-wing sites posting news based on information that wasn’t true. “I saw something posted sincerely with a headline like, ‘Obama Issues Executive Order to Take Over U.S.,’” he told Collins. “How do you counter that? You can try to debunk it, but nobody cares about that. They just say it’s liberal media bias.”
For Collins, the answer was supposed to be RealTrueNews.org:
He was going to come up with the most ludicrous right-wing conspiracy theories he could think of, give them a narrative and timeline, and put them into quasi-official looking documents.
Then he and that childhood friend, Mike, would post the website on his alt-right friends’ Facebook walls to prove how ridiculous they looked.
Only that last part of the plan didn’t work out so well:
It’s two weeks before the election now and those documents have accrued millions of views across his website, the document drop site Scribd, and various social media accounts. They’ve appeared on cable news. They’ve trended on Facebook and Twitter. Two polling companies, barraged with hatemail from Trump supporters about “leaked” memos created for RealTrueNews articles, have had to put out official statements denying the existence of such memos. Chacon’s stories are regularly accepted as fact in the pro-Trump message board canon. YouTube videos with tens of thousands of views exist solely to reinforce sentences and ideas Chacon dreamed up on his laptop in the middle of the night.
It was a lesson in the purposeful spread of untruths. His full documents, as Collins reports, were clear jokes, with clues like signatures from a children’s cartoon character and a poll in which a potato was one of the candidates. But it was the true-sounding bits, taken out of context, that were picked up and passed around.