NORTH WATERBORO (NEWS CENTER Maine) - An explosion at Al Franken’s house kills six people. A child is expelled from school for wearing a Donald Trump costume. Nancy Pelosi's daughter is arrested for drug trafficking.
None of this is true, but it’s shocking, and each is probably a headline you've seen in your Facebook feed.
Long before President Trump, fake news, and Facebook censoring, fictional headlines invaded social media. The men and women behind the computers even make money off the trolling.
One man has been described as one of the most “notorious fake newsers” in the country by Snopes and Politifact – and he lives in North Waterboro, Maine.
Online, he’s “Busta Troll.” In person, he’s Christopher Blair, father of three.
His first ever trolling headline? “It was so dumb,” he said. “’Hillary was caught on a hot mic saying racial slurs about Beyoncé,’ I think was the first one.”
His posts reach more than 3 million people each week – but if you ask Blair, he says they are not “fake news,” because he puts disclaimers on his articles to let people know they’re satire.
“Do we put out headlines that aren't true? Yes,” he said as he sat in his backyard. “When you read the article, if you still believe it, there is something wrong with you.”
A self-proclaimed liberal troll originally from Massachusetts, he's been publishing outlandish headlines since 2014. Behind the Busta Troll mask - Blair believes his satire is making Facebook a better place.
“Ultimately, the goal became: write articles that were so hyperbolically racist and demeaning and ridiculous that you would bring the worst of the worst into the comments,” he explained. “And it worked. They started coming out in droves, and the things that they will say will get them banned from Facebook. So if you can get a few racists banned from Facebook like you're having a good time, well isn't that fun?”
In 2014, trolling was just a game. Leading up to the 2016 election and the inauguration of Donald Trump, Blair says it became his mission. He described a Trump presidency as “a trolls dream” but his personal “worst nightmare.”
Blair gained his following by using targeted Facebook ads: aiming for men over 55 who “liked” Donald Trump and Sean Hannity on Facebook, he said.
Blair believes the rise of the term "fake news" has given him a bad reputation – with media accusations that he’s destroying America and undermining real journalism. “I'm causing division,” Blair said. “Absolutely, what I do can absolutely cause harm.”
Still – he believes his trolling has a greater purpose – and for a few months, it made him some serious cash. He wouldn’t say how much, but said he took his family on vacation, bought a screen house, bought toys for his kids, and spoiled his nieces and nephews.
Since Facebook’s algorithm changed to combat fictional articles, Blair’s cashflow has stopped – but Busta hasn’t stopped trolling. He’s changed the context of his page to be more liberal-based. “The people that are on the page or more upset with us every day,” he explained. “Are we causing arguments and division? You're damn right we are. It's what we do.”