By now, just about anyone who uses the internet should at least be able to pick out The Onion as a satirical site. The operative word here being “should.” However, there’s apparently enough folks on Facebook who still don’t get it, and so Facebook has been running trials on flagging articles from The Onion as satire.
Even if you’re not familiar with the website itself, it should at least raise the suspicions of someone with even a small amount of critical thinking ability. After all, are there any legitimate news publications out there that are named after a freaking fruit or vegetable? The Honolulu Pineapple? The Austin Artichoke? The Charleston Carrot?
Granted, there are other sites out there that aren’t as recognizable as satire, and some just go for easy clicks with made up stories that even the savviest of web users could fall for. Newslo, NationalReport.net, FreeWoodPost, DailyCurrant and others are just a few cheap versions of what The Onion does so well – writing clever, humorous satire that is close to reality without actually tricking people who actually read a story into sharing it in outraged all caps.
Stories from The Onion can appear real to many Facebook users, leading to the kinds of responses collected by Literally Unbelievable, a blog of comments outraged by the site’s stories. (Recent controversies include responses to the Onion’s story about a 9,600 mile long rollercoaster, including users wondering about how to take toilet breaks.)
I can tell you that based off of my time as a writer and page admin, I’ve both written and shared stuff that was satire, some of it with a clear disclaimer up front that it was satirical in nature. On the other hand, some of the stories I’ve written – such as the recently viral “SC Restaurant Owner Refuses To Serve Blacks, Cites Religious Beliefs“ or “Georgia Conservative Group Wants To Revive The KKK (VIDEO)“ – clearly stated in the story that it wasn’t current news, but used historical events to contrast with current political issues such as the Hobby Lobby ruling by the Supreme Court.
Yet, even then, far too many people still shared these stories as if they were real things happening right now. It is true that with current political and social issues, it is hard to tell reality from satire. Last year when Paula Deen got 86’d from The Food Network, Allen Clifton’s satirical “Fox News Hires Paula Deen for New Cooking Show” clearly stated toward the end of the article that it wasn’t true:
“I made all of it up. Though the sad part is, up until this point, many probably didn’t think this was satire. Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if Paula Deen does somehow manage to get a new job that has Fox ties. But that’s the true sad state of Fox News and the Republican Party—it’s become hard to tell the difference between satire and reality.” (Source)
But did that stop thousands of people from reading only the headline and passing it on as if it was true? Nope. In fact, it got so out of hand that Snopes had to write an article debunking the viral rumor that Paula Deen had indeed been picked up by Fox News.
“Deen quickly became the subject of a number of satirical barbs, one of which was a 23 June 2013 piece by Allen Clifton published on the Forward Progressives web site which posited Deen had been picked up by Fox News to host a cooking show for that channel, a program focusing “on dishes that represent true southern traditions that come straight from the plantation.” Many readers who encountered the article through links and excerpts posted via social media mistook it for a genuine news article, either because they didn’t see the original in context or didn’t read it all the way to the end…” (Source)
So what does that have to say about the current state of politics and human intelligence in general that Facebook is having to seriously consider tagging stories that pop on your newsfeed as satire? I know that people fall for complete rubbish posing as news every day. After all, that’s how Fox News stays in business, but that’s also how some liberal websites pay the bills as well.
Facebook shouldn’t have to label The Onion as satire, but the fact that they do is a testament to how far our social and political discourse has been dumbed down.
And now for some breaking news from The Onion which is probably more accurate than half of the other stuff currently on Facebook:
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