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When Onions Stink

 

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Last Thursday, a satirical, fake-news website became real news for a brief time.

The Onion, known for its tongue and cheek comedy, became much more wildly known when it began posting “breaking” news to its Twitter feed. The first post read:

“BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside the capital.” And then, for 10 minutes, there was nothing else said.

Most people were confused. Many of those who subscribed to The Onion’s feed thought they were another hacking victim. Several of those who were not as familiar with them took it more literally, and began worrying about a terrorist attack.

After that, the tweets alternately clarified and confused- while one seemed completely unlikely- “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen.”- others muddied the feed again with “Two chaperones are also being held, one of whom is said to be pregnant.” and “Arlington Gun shop confirms Rep. @EricCantor bought 6 semi-automatic handguns, 3 rifles & 600 clips of ammo last month.” They even began the Twitter hash tag “#CongressHostage” so everyone could follow along.

There seems to be as much bewilderment as there was smiling over the stint. There also was a backlash of anger. Capitol police had a part of their force investigating the false information after they had just arrested a man the day before for a plot to detonate explosives in the Pentagon and the Capitol.

I have never followed The Onion, and don’t usually find their particular brand of humor my style. But after a concerned military wife asked the question that so many others were asking- “Was the account hacked?”- I found the story and was shocked.

My personal opinion was that the ‘joke’ went much too far. Joking is part of the freedom of speech we are so wonderfully allowed- the same reason I am allowed to write this. But its gift should not be taken lightly. A joke about Osama Bin Laden on late night TV may be in poor taste, but not necessarily dangerous.

However, when Capitol police are called away from their regular duties to investigate a false report (something that every day people, notably including Casey Anthony, would be heavily fined for at best), I have a problem with it. And creating a hash tag to gain interest from people who normally have never heard of The Onion is misleading at best.

The Onion made a point to clarify that it was not hacked- and nothing more. There was no apology. I wondered what military families across the United States felt about that. Were they upset at a joke over something of national importance, and the implications it could have in their personal lives? Or did they think it was a funny joke, comparing it as some did to “The War of The Worlds” radio broadcast.

How did you react to the story?

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6 thoughts on “When Onions Stink”

  1. WOW! I never even heard or saw anything about this, but it’s probably good that I didn’t! That completely outrages me! Absolutely NOT okay for them to do something like that! I completely agree that there is a difference between a little joke about osama bin laden on late night tv and between posting a BREAKING NEWS coverage about a hostage shooting! I completely agree that it really bothers me that people who have OTHER important jobs to protect our govt officials and this country and the fact that they were pulled away from their work to look into a completely fake and ridiculous event is absolutely NOT okay!

  2. The freedom of speech that we have in this country comes with responsibility; all freedoms come with responsibilities. This was not only tasteless and simply not funny, it was dangerous. It sickens me when people do not understand what our military and police face every day for our citizens’ safety, and those people take for granted the freedoms that have been fought for at such high costs. This was a cheap publicity stunt that could have resulted in tragedy. I have never heard of the “Onion,” and will certainly never check them out now.

  3. I agree with Erin. Isn’t this incident synonymous with yelling “fire” in a crowded theater of “bomb” on an airplane? I consider it so much more than a “faux pas” on behalf of the Onion and more a “somebody better begin explaining!” There have been countless articles on the internet how people don’t know anything about The Onion and don’t know their schtick is making fun of the news. I don’t know where I was on twitter the day this happened, but thank Jeavens I didn’t see it. Causing mass hysteria is not entertainment. It is wrong and someone should be help accountable!

  4. Ok, normally, I find The Onion at least amusing, and I do believe that people should always be wary of taking “breaking news” at face value (remember the fallout from the radio play of “War of the Worlds” in the 40’s?). HOWEVER…after going to The Onion’s website, and reading the actual article describing the “hostage situation”, I don’t find it the least bit funny at all. I can see that they’re satirizing the crazy ways that Congress is trying to avoid a budget crisis, but this a terrible way to go about it. Even I can think of better jokes they could have made.

    Here’s what I think is the crux of the problem–the point of satire is to take an issue and exaggerate it to outlandish proportions, to show how absurd the issue is. In the wake of 9-11, Fort Hood, and countless foiled terrorist plots–not to mention the escalating terrorist attacks around the world–a hostage crisis inside the Capitol is NOT outlandish. It hits too close to home, and not in the way that the writers intended.

    The Onion really took a miss with this one. “A Modest Proposal” it is not. Bad form, indeed.

    1. Sorry for the double-post, but if there was an “edit” button, I’d use it! I meant to say “solve the budget crisis”, not “avoid a budget crisis”. To use a metaphor, that ship has sailed…:P

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