The Onion's decision to "live"-tweet a story about members of Congress holding children hostage in the Capitol building. Without a doubt, the first tweet of the barrage was troubling. "BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside the Capitol building," the tweet rang out. It has since been retweeted 141 times.Everybody freaked out this morning over
But just because this message flew by on Twitter, does that mean we should go into panic mode? The Onion is a satirical source. It produces works of fiction, and it tries to be funny. That's all it does. It can publish whatever it wants. One tweet is not an isolated incident. It's part of a stream of messages, and the rest of the messages here tell an obviously satirical story.
BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.
Certainly, that's not a very funny joke considered by itself. It was off-putting enough for Mathew Ingram to wonder whether the account had been compromised:
But no, as it turned out, this was all part of the plan. They were promoting a story called Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage, and it's pretty much a run-of-the-mill Onion story, although it does name some congressional names. It's satire, though. It's The Onion. There's nothing beyond the pale.
John Paul Titlow
You guys. It's The Onion.
It's readers' responsibility to know their sources. The Onion is a satirical publication, and it should be widely known. That does not stop people from believing Onion stories, as the amazing blog "Literally Unbelievable" can demonstrate, but that's not the Onion's fault. The Onion's job is to make up fake news stories. It's citizens' job to be informed enough to identify them.
We live in a panicked time, and that panic is compounded by the speed of social media. One could make abstruse fire-in-a-crowded-theater arguments about The Onion's responsibilities, but it is not, nor does it have the slightest desire to be, a credible source of information.
Ingram asked an interesting question in the wake of these tweets:
could @TheOnion be at risk of legal action for tweeting about a non-existent attack on the Capitol building? just curious
If so, we should think twice, maybe even several times, about whether that action would be deserved.
H.G. Wells Orson Welles did his War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938, people actually sued the network for "mental anguish and personal injury." Did they deserve compensation? (edit: thanks very much for the correction, codeslave)
@acarvin If you take The Onion seriously or don't know what it is and don't double check, you deserve your panic. Sick of paranoia culture.
The first tweet sucked. I think we can all agree on that. The whole story might be utterly devoid of humor. But The Onion can say literally whatever it wants. Its job is to be funny. If it fails at that job, what is our loss?
I AM READY TO MOVE ON FROM THE ONION TRAGEDY NOW. THANK YOU EVERYONE.