Is satirical “news” making us stupid? (UPDATED)


I’m a big fan of The Onion. And satire in general. But I’ve noticed an increasing trend lately: People mistaking satire for legitimate news. It used to be easy to tell when The Onion was the only player in the satire game — but the last few years have seen the satirical news market become increasingly saturated.

It doesn’t help that often the disclaimers (if they have any) are hidden away somewhere — or are so tongue-in-cheek that if you don’t realize the article is satirical, you may not realize the disclaimer is satirical too.

I’ve also noticed that this new brand of satire is far more subtle, at least in the beginning. Things start off plausibly before building to a crescendo of implausibility near the end. This can cause some problems.

Not too long ago the place I work conducted a study on the reading habits of people. The biggest takeaway was that people tend to read the first two or three paragraphs of something — then either skim the rest, jump to the end, or just stop reading.

Since much of this newer satire buries the big giveaways deeper in the story, many people seem to miss them — but post or share anyway, believing it is legitimate. From there other friends share it, also thinking it is legitimate since their friend posted it.

And from there the satire takes on an air of truthfulness — with people using the “information” from such stories in conversations and debates. Once something is out of the box, it’s very hard to keep it from spreading — let alone put it back in. Snopes has quite a list of things that have needed debunking and have origins in satirical news articles.

So remember, search high and low for a disclaimer (they can usually be found at the bottom of the page or “about us” section) — or just Google before you post up that “shocking” “news” story. And make sure to point out such falsities to others when you see them posted. Help our collective consciousness stay sharp!

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson


EDIT: After posting this originally, I received some feedback from people concerning satire. The main theme being “(satire) promotes critical thinking — which is something we need.”

And honestly, I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of the reasons I love satire. It’s (usually) smart stuff. The problem, as pointed out by another reader, is “not so much that satirical news is making us stupid, as that as a society we have become so gullible and unwilling to ‘fact check’ (or even read the entire article in the first place, as you pointed out) that we don’t even start to think critically in the first place.”

So the question is: What’s the best way to keep people from being so gullible and to get them thinking critically?

Casey has a background in writing and journalism – and is known for his mediation and discussion skills. In his spare time he enjoys absorbing, dissecting and disseminating information — particularly in U.S. politics, religion, technology, science, music, gaming, and pop-­culture.

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