Terrence Aym: A Fake News Pioneer
His name was Terrence Aym…at least that was what the byline stated. He authored more than a thousand “compelling and hard-hitting” articles online and self-published several short story collections, poems, and non-fiction books (including one through Amazon). At his height, his work proliferated throughout numerous Internet news and content writing sites. In addition, mainstream media –from nearly every form -- took notice. Radio personalities were clawing to get his attention. It seemed for a time, his trademark avatar of a silhouetted reporter at his typewriter was everywhere.
Yet, through it all, the stories that brought him fame were as illusive and sketchy as was his name. If it pertained the paranormal, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, or political ideology, there was no doubt that Terrence was going to cover it like the journalist he envisioned he was. And, it didn’t matter if there was a lack of validity for the many claims he championed in his tabloid-like stories.
Most importantly, Terrence Aym (if that was his real name) became a pioneer of sorts. He didn’t invent fake news. Still, his conglomeration of “alternative facts” set the stage for what was to come. And, in the process, he garnered a small group of followers that held on to every word he wrote despite the numerous fallacies found in his writing.
PART I: History
How it All Began
As of this writing (2018), it has been nearly five years since a new Internet article bore Terrence Aym’s name. Still, his stories and “non-fiction” articles litter numerous fringe sites. And, as late as 2017, his 7-year-old article on a potential war with North Korea found its way onto a conservative Christian site called TruNews.com.
Although his biography page (which still exist on several sites) indicated he wrote stories and articles for a long time, his Internet writing career took a big step when he began writing for the defunct site, Helium.Com in late 2009. He wrote at other sites such as OpEdNews.Com and Before-It’s-News.Com before joining Helium; however, the content writing site became a “home-base” for him. There, he honed skills and formula for writing. Many of his most viral and controversial articles began there.
He was prolific, too. He posted an article, short story or poem nearly everyday onto the site. By his third year there, he had more than 1100 articles published. Many of them were outsourced to other news sites from around the world – including Russian sites such as Pravda (more on that later).
The majority of the articles were sensationalist and outlandish. They read like supermarket tabloids and, at best, could be entertaining -- if not taken too seriously.
The self-styled “people-powered journalism” site, Before-It’s News still has an archive of the stories he either directly or simultaneously (with Helium) published to their site. These archives give an idea of what he wrote. The headlines are as follows:
- Japan: We Recovered Crashed UFO
- ‘Artificial Wooden Plank’ Found on Mars
- Project A119: The US Plan to Blow Up the Moon
By 2010, many of his articles climbed the rankings on search engines
Aym Takes on Marketing
Terrence had another talent that would prove worthy in freelance writing; he knew how to market himself. First, Terrence reposted many of his stories onto various sites (this was before content sites prohibited multiple publication of the same article on other sites, and before Google created algorithms to penalize sites for allowing such things).
Second, he became a regular contributor to other sites. In the case of the Oregon based Salem-News.com, he was listed as part of the staff. This site would prove crucial for him, for it expanded his viewership and exposure to a wider audience (as well as preserving many of his articles after Helium folded several years ago).
This happened, in part, because Helium’s platform helped him with this. The site used to have a section for writers to seek employment with other news or writing sites. Also, the editorial staff routinely marketed the articles to outside print and Internet magazines (in later years, he managed to get onto the editorial staff – more on that later).
Third, he hit the social media circuit. He had a page on Facebook and held an active Twitter account. Although, unproven, he may have used Twitter bots such as Hootsuite or Tweet-Adder to help mass repost links to his stories. Considering the sheer volume of articles bearing his name, and the various strategies he used, bloggers and editors hungry for content had a steady stream of Terrence Aym’s finest inventions.
Finally, he padded his bio-page every chance he had. Seemingly – and as many editors at content writing sites will want – it had the appearance of an overwritten resume from a very accomplished and important writer.
It didn’t take long for his strategy to pay off. By 2010, many of his articles climbed the rankings on search engines. Also, during this pivotal year, the silly “tabloid-eques” headlines he wrote, diminished to make way for compelling ones. And, the articles began to take on serious topics pertaining to current events. While fortune came to him, so did some very harsh –but legitimate and justifiable -- criticisms.
BP Oil Spill Becomes a Turning Point
All legends – good or bad -- start somewhere. For Terrence, that year was 2010 and it happened with the help of a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform blew up, killing 11. It also resulted in a massive oil spill that threatened the region’s ecosystem. The explosion was so severe that it destroyed the pipe near the bottom of the ocean. It gushed oil at an alarming rate.
That year the History Channel had a show called Mega Disasters. Each week, the show highlighted a natural disaster that had the potential to destroy the Earth. Much of it was based on historical events, hypothetical scenarios and recent discoveries in geology, astronomy or paleontology (to name of few). One such disaster was a massive methane explosion. Most importantly, this show married science and entertainment (and entertaining it was!).
There is evidence (and plenty of speculation) that methane explosions incinerated portions of the planet in the distant past. However, the scenario played out on the episode merely showed an extreme situation. Loosely backed (but not definitively) by two researchers, the show depicted a scenario in which a massive bubble of methane escaped from a deposit under the Gulf of Mexico and somehow ignited, which resulted in an apocalyptic fireball that engulfed Houston and much of the Texas and Louisiana Coast.
Evidently, Terrence caught wind of this potential disaster, as well as the unfolding events of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Inspiration burned hotter than the methane fireballs. As a result, Terrence devised his most famous (or infamous, depending who you talk to) article entitled, “Doomsday: How BP Gulf disaster may have triggered a 'world-killing' event”.
The article is nearly impossible to find intact. A complete form of it may exist far, far away on the Internet highway. However, in 2010, the article, originally posted on Helium, was everywhere.
The following is an excerpt of Aym’s writing that was reprinted for a Time Magazine’s Newsfeed article the hysteria his article created.
“BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling operation may have triggered an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years.
“The oil giant drilled down miles into a geologically unstable region and may have set the stage for the eventual premature release of a methane mega-bubble.”
Within a month, panicked readers began to flood chatrooms all over the Internet, voicing fears the possibility that imminent doom was underway – even after experts in the field weighed in on the issue and proclaimed that there was no hard evidence to support this. In fact, in an interview in another Time Magazine’s Newsfeed article, Louisiana State University geologist, Gary Byerly stated:
“The idea that there could be a catastrophic cave in, or a methane gas explosion, that’s not a reasonable worry…The rock formations on top of this oil deposit have enough strength that nothing like that is going to happen.”
The notoriety, nonetheless, brought Terrence a lot of attention. He also started to receive new titles. He wasn’t just known as a freelance writer, he was labeled by some as:
- Expert writer
- Science Writer
- Investigative reporter
Terrence Aym, it seemed, could do no wrong at this point. However, not all the attention was positive. As mentioned, Time Magazine wrote a scorching critique on the article, as did The Nation and several reputable science blogs, especially those created by scientists.
In articles that followed, Terrence began to write about other natural disasters and the paranormal. They received the same praise and ridicule as the Gulf Disaster article. However, the critics’ voices were being heard loud and clear. Many such referred to him by another nickname:
- Doomsday Writer
Undeterred, Terrence kept writing. And he was beginning to find a niche.
Doomsday, Pseudoscience, and the Paranormal Make for Successful Formula
There’s a little known fact about Terrence that many writers at Helium knew; he loved to write poems and short stories. In an interview (real or imagined, it’s not clear), he claimed that he started writing short stories at an early age while living in a suburb of Chicago. A third of the 1100 articles he wrote for Helium were listed under the categories of poetry, short story or flash fiction.
Also, few realized that he wrote politically themed articles, too. Often he published these articles in right wing and libertarian sites such as OpedNews.com or The Federalist. In one case, he wrote a widely circulated mock interview with then President Barrack Obama. The interview was actually a critique of Obama and his policies.
Yet, it was the doomsday articles or tales of undiscovered or mysterious creatures lurking throughout the world that caught the readers’ attentions. The typical subjects summed up in the following lists:
- Secret moon or Antarctic bases (Nazis, the Soviets, China, or the United States)
- Asteroid on collision course with Earth
- Skeletons of Giants found in the American Southwest
- The discovery of “living fossils” such the Ropen.
- Shifting of the magnetic poles will cause untold devastation.
As a result, of the popularity of these stories, Terrence garnered the attention of international media. On several occasions he was a guest on the nationally syndicated show Coast to Coast AM. This particular radio show focused on the paranormal and conspiracy theories.
In another case (at least according to his bio-page) an LSU professor allegedly assigned one of his article to his classes (this was based on evidence he had in his bio-page).
Helium Turns a Blind Eye
Despite all the positive attention he was receiving, the list of dissent rose after every publication. Smithsonian Online took his Ropen article to task. Noted astronomer and creator of the popular blog, Bad Astronomy, Bill Plait eviscerated him in several postings. He reviewed his articles on a doomsday asteroid and another detailing eminent disaster coming from a magnetic pole shift. In each case, the criticisms were brutal – and science-based.
These critics aimed many of their vitriol toward the Helium editorial staff, too… who couldn’t be more happier. Helium loved Terrence for all the attention he brought to the site. And to them, publicity (both good and bad) was simply “good publicity”. In fact, those were the very words given by a staff member after a particular writer on the site questioned her for praising Aym in a Helium blog, in which she made him a prime example of how writers on the site could promote themselves.
Helium editorial board took it one-step further; they made him a part of the editorial board and awarded him nearly every badge of accomplishment it offered.
Seemingly, from that moment on, Terrance was made of Teflon. He started the path toward becoming a serious and noted writer.
Not So Invulnerable
The year 2013 had some highs and extreme lows for Terrence Aym. By this time, he moved on to self-publishing books. He started small with a few collections of flash fiction stories and poems from a small online publication. Later, he created his crowning achievement: a book published and sold through Amazon.
The book, Mysteries of the Multiverse: 25 True Stories From Time and Space, was listed as “non-fiction”. It was a pseudoscientific masterpiece. For the most part the reviews on Amazon were positive. And, again, it caught the attention of others in the media and created a buzz throughout the Internet world.
However, in May of that year, Terrence tweeted the following:
The message indicated that he was taking a break from writing. After all, by this time he amassed a huge collection of published articles. Then, came the following Tweet:
This was last message on his Twitter account. This was the last thing he wrote on the Internet. Later that year, he passed away. Within a year, most of his work preserved on Helium vanished when the content site folded. Terrence was gone…Or was he?
PART II – Who Was Terrence?
As of this writing, fragments of Terrence Aym’s work still exist; however, much of it vanished over the last five years. His Facebook account closed down. While his Twitter account still exist, the Tweets he left behind link to empty pages. The numerous political sites and fringe science blogs that reposted his articles have faded away a long time ago. His name, whether real or made up, is barely uttered on the net.
But, the avatar still exist as do a few bio-pages. Also, other items remain: the mystery of his identity, the legacy he left behind, and the confirmation that he passed away.
Origin of the Name
Terrence Aym’s name is unique -- possibly too unique -- to be believed. In many respects, it sounds more like a pen-name. And pen-names often have a hidden meaning behind them.
It was worth checking the name out. Searching for it on Google was easy. One site gave scant evidence to his name’s authenticity.
Answers.com had a slide question: “Was Terrence Aym a survivor on the Titanic?”
The answer on the following slide was :“No. He was the sole survivor of The Flying Dutchman.”
The connection with a legendary ghost ship was odd. Nevertheless, upon further rumination on the issue, one couldn’t help but to suspect that the name was deliberately chosen. The survivor in the legend was an observer and reported this tale to the masses. This pretty much represented what Terrance wanted to become – a reporter investigating the unknown.
The Avatar and Another Alias?
If it’s not the name that best signifies Terrence Aym, it would be the avatar he chose for himself. As mentioned, it is a silhouetted man with a fedora hat sitting behind a typewriter. For as long as he had been writing, that symbol has been a part his articles, as well as his Facebook, Twitter profile and numerous bio-pages (especially those that exist on Salem-News.com and Before-It’s-News.com).
He started using it in 2009. Another Chicago-based writer named Owen Hatteras, however, used a nearly identical image too (no coffee in his hand on this one). In fact, Hatteras -- who wrote a column called “Letters From the Ombudsman” for the website, The Smart Set. Com – seemingly stopped writing around 2007. In addition to that, he used the avatar in the same fashion as Terrence Aym. Was this a coincidence? Again, there’s not enough evidence to suggest Terrence and Hatteras were the same person.
However, it does make one wonder if Terrence Aym was one of many alias. And it brings up a question – ironically an conspiratorial type of question – that Terrence merely retired this name by faking his (as Aym’s) death.
And if that’s not conspiratorial enough, here’s another one: Owen Hatteras was the pseudo name used by H.L. Menken (1880-1956), one of the most influential American journalist, satirist, and critic of the early-to-mid 20th century. He used the Hatteras name to write novels. The identity of the writer that last used this name is still unknown.
And, some of these stories had been published on Russian-owned sites. In fact, Terrence wrote an article on Helium that touted Vladimir Putin as a great leader...
Examining his name and the avatar he used may sound trivial. Nevertheless, they also brought up many questions about Terrence Aym’s identity, and ultimately, his legacy.
Lately, the term fake news is thrown around. Unfortunately, much of it has become political. Terrence could be blamed for that, since many political sites snatched up his articles (especially those with conservative or libertarian views.
His articles – whether dealing with conspiracy theories or doomsday— are still online on fringe and ideological sites that seemingly specializes. Also, many of these article found on Before-It’s-News are still getting huge viewership (much like today's’ fake news).
And, some of these stories had been published on Russian-owned sites. In fact, Terrence wrote an article on Helium that touted Vladimir Putin as a great leader (the article unfortunately never transitioned to another site when Helium stopped its operations). Could this mean that Terrence was actually one of the first Russian hackers/writers to undermine American democracy?
In hindsight, this may sound plausible. But then again, much of this merely hypothetical. Ultimately, Terrence Aym was a successful writer who ventured from a content writing site and briefly took the Internet by storm. At his height, he tried to write sensational articles filled with questionable facts and succeeded to a certain degree.
In the end, however, he left with more questions than answers. Why he wrote the types of articles will never be known. In some ways, the man who helped influence fake news wouldn’t have it any other way.
A Podcast Interview with Terrence Aym with Royce Holleman
© 2018 Dean Traylor