News & Views
Facebook helpfully explains satire

A butterfly flapping its wings on one continent might be rumoured to cause an earthquake on another, but a collective headdesk does not have the same effect. Which is pretty damn lucky, as a fair few people probably did themselves an injury by slamming their faces down in frustration upon hearing of the latest development at Facebook.

The social network is introducing tags that will clarify for undiscerning readers whether the news link they’re reading is satire or not. Because apparently, our own brains can no longer be trusted to tell the difference. The [Satire] label will be added whenever a user posts a link to a parody website, like The Onion or The Daily Mash.

One could argue that this is due to satire articles getting better at mirroring and mocking real life events, but the truth is, more and more consumers just don’t have the mental wherewithal to separate fact from fiction. And we have the internet to blame; it is the nature of the beast to demand our attention at any cost. “This isn’t about shortened attention spans,” says Dannagal Young. “This is about an overabundance of decontextualized snippets of info.”

“The internet has become so weird, so saturated with cats and lists and BuzzFeed quizzes that it’s difficult to know what’s a spoof anymore,” says Arwa Mahdawi at The Guardian. “The manner in which we’ve monetised digital media means we often reward reaction over reflection and eschew meaning for meme-ing.”

There is an alternative theory, originated by journalist Ezra Ferraz, that Facebook has in fact developed the satire tag to help Asian users differentiate between real and fake news stories. “As a genre and as a concept, satire does not seem to be taught as much in the East as it is in the West,” he says, going on to liken the satire tag to a calorie label which enables people to consume responsibly.

Which is a neat way of looking at it. Rather than rolling our eyes at how little credit Facebook seems to be giving its users, perhaps instead we should all be grateful that there will be less indignant comments on the next outrageous (and fake) news scandal.

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