Every so often, the media will report on some high-profile entity — a congressman of the Chinese government, say — who will repeat a story found at the online satirical “newspaper” The Onion as actual fact. Now, hoaxes in news are nothing new, and not that rare. But the thing is, The Onion can’t be characterized as a hoax site — they make no bones about being satirical, just like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report or even Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.
So when people fall for links from this joke paper — which specializes in outrageous overstatement, such as this favorite of mine — it always puzzles me. And in the Facebook Age, that’s all the more common.
So I was laughing my ass off when I happened upon this recent story, which pulls together the 35 “best” times someone on Facebook fell for an Onion piece. (My favorite? No. 27.) What’s especially wondrous is how most of the “victims” suffer from confirmational bias — the tendency to find like-minded people affirm already held (and kooky) beliefs, such as the notion that Osama bin Laden is still alive (and a 500 foot monster — No. 5), the scourge of poor people (No. 8) and an abortion factory (Nos. 7 and 16). Some of these (obviously right wing) nuts even twist bizarre stories like the prevalence of wolf attacks (No. 2) as a platform for spouting propaganda about Obama (No. 24 may be the best), liberalism and the welfare state (apparently not knowing the Official Dance to the National Anthem is an embarrassment related to food stamps — No. 3).