Facebook Thinks We Are Too Stupid To Identify Satire

Is this a helping hand or dumbing the internet down?

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© 2017 Flickr - Andreas Poike / Facebook

Online news has grown in the past few decades, from a fringe afterthought for major news organisations, to the primary way that younger generations consume media in the digital age. Alongside this explosive growth has been the emergence of sites which mock the news that we consume daily. Some of these so-called satirical news site are now as popular, if now more popular than real news networks.

Fake satire stories have caused scares and panic solely because they were mistaken for real news.

These sites range from large text-based ‘traditional’ satire sites, such as The Onion and The Daily Currant to video based offerings such as The Daily Show, and even meta-parodies of new media such as Clickhole. The problem with such proliferation of news satire is that it is often mistaken for real news, especially on social media. There have been numerous cases where fake satire stories have caused scares and panic solely because they were mistaken for real news.

Now Facebook is coming to the rescue, with a system it believes will clear up this kind of satire-confusion for good. To do this, they plan to implement a ‘satire’ tag to sit alongside satirical news articles when they are published to the network, alerting a users to the less-than-factual content of the link. This new feature is still in a testing phase, although it has been seen in the News Feed of significant numbers of users.

 But is Facebook right in thinking that we are really to dumb to identify satire? We would like to think that most people have a fairly good grip on what is going on the in the world around them, but this is sadly not the case. Rather, the average viewer would probably not be able to identify a satirical article from a factual one if they were both presented within an environment commonly associated with factuality or reliability.

This is made worse by the fact that many satire websites aim to write headlines that are just plausible enough that they might be true, so as to invite readers to make sure that these articles really are satire.  In addition, the news world itself is full of headlines and stories, which are themselves so crazy or unbelievable that they would be considered satire, if they weren’t actually true. This is so common in fact that users on Reddit even developed a subreddit called /r/nottheonion to post these kind of unbelievable, but yet real stories.

Who knows, maybe Facebook is actually doing the world a service?