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Beware Escaped Satire

by Brett M. Christensen

Satire has its place.  Good satire can hold up a mirror to our society and culture and perhaps get us thinking more deeply about important issues of the day.  And it can be amusing as well. 

Of course, the Internet has provided a perfect venue for satirists and many satire websites – good and not so good – have emerged over recent years.  A lot of such sites present their stories in a news format. Satirical articles published on the sites are therefore sometimes mistaken as genuine news articles.  Especially if readers arrive at the satire article via a direct link in a social media post or email.

And, fairly regularly, the articles escape their original context and circulate via other formats, duping a surprising number of recipients into taking their claims seriously.  Satire sites often feature a disclaimer explaining the fictional nature of their content. And, on site, more observant readers may quickly cotton on to the true nature of the site when they notice a host of outlandish “news” headlines for other satirical articles.

But, of course, out of context, these indicators are missing or diminished.

So, be sure to verify any message that comes your way, even if it looks like a genuine news article. Especially if its claims seem rather bizarre or hard to believe.  If the story contains a link back to its original home, you might be able to quickly work out if the site is satirical or a genuine news source.

Otherwise, a quick search via a reputable news portal such as Google News should reveal if the story is true.  If the story discusses celebrities, significant current events, politics, or other high profile topics, there is sure to be a number of news reports about it if it is actually true. If the story is not published on a reputable news source and/or cannot be verified elsewhere, then it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Don’t share unverified articles.

In context, satire can be great. But circulating satire mistaken as truth can be damaging. It can raise fear and alarm, cause conflict and misunderstandings and spread dangerous falsehoods.