We recently wrote about the brouhaha bubbling up about the Babylon Bee. While Snopes was central to the story, they aren’t the only ones caught up in the affair. The subject is significant enough to warrant some follow up.
We may be approaching a perfect storm generated by several factors. Ever shorter attention spans of social media combatants who type faster than they think. Gullible readers who trust what they read based on biases more than facts or rational thought. And, “journalism” that is increasingly questionable, unreliable and deceptive. Which is more than a little ironic, considering the barbs some are aiming at a popular satire site.
That Satirical News is Not News is News
Consider an article that, at least to this reader, seems to want to appear as a serious treatment of the “satirical news” problem. They quote some rather detailed statistics that would seem to reveal just how big this problem is. They even have some fancy graphs and everything.
But, and this is a big but, there is one minor issue with their survey. Quoting from their report:
“We downloaded the 5,000 most engaging news stories from the prior week and selected 20 of the highest profile stories, 10 true and 10 false. We then drafted brief statements summarizing key points of each story, which is common practice when writing knowledge questions about current events. Finally, we conducted a survey with a representative sample of Americans, asking each participant a series of questions about each of the statements.”
They surveyed people using “brief statements summarizing key points of each story.” Not the actual articles, not the original language, not the original context. How, or even if, the summaries remotely resembled the original articles as presented on the satire sites is dubious. The results should be viewed with skepticism.
And, let’s not forget that, like it or not, satire is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate from “real” news. Not because satire is posing as legitimate reporting but because our culture is becoming more nuts by the day. Seriously, when we can’t tell whether a headline or paragraph is true or fake, we can’t blame satire for that. That’s on society at large which is embracing insanity at an alarming rate.And, let's not forget that, like it or not, satire is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate from 'real' news. Not because satire is posing as legitimate reporting but because our culture is becoming more nuts by the day. Click To Tweet
Bring Out the Flags
A problem requires a solution, of course. Since so many people apparently can’t decipher what they read, it falls to the publishers and media giants like Facebook and Google to intercede. They should start flagging content. Mark up everything that is satire with conspicuous warnings. If dumbing down everything makes us safer, then who could argue with that?
There is a subtle, but not insignificant, element that will probably escape many in this idea. It assumes that “real” news is trustworthy. While we take the articles marked satire with a grain of salt, we know we can believe the others. That is nonsense, of course. As we have pointed out, journalism is not as objective as we would like to believe.
Here’s an idea. How about we let people be adults, accept responsibility for their media consumption and the consequences. If they get fooled, maybe they will learn a valuable lesson. Worse things could happen. The coddling trend in our culture continues, a course which will not end well.
Honestly, if we are at the point that we must blatantly label satire articles everywhere, we have bigger problems.
Here’s a brief video that sheds some much needed light on the story.
Snopes Vs Babylon Bee
If you want to read the cited article, you can do that at Too many people think satirical news is real.