This isn’t about atheism, but it is about skepticism in general, and some of the annoyances of the internet.
I loves me some fake news. Been reading The Onion for well over a decade now. The Daily Show is my favorite thing on TV, and most weeks I never miss an episode. But even with all that in mind, I really want to say that there are just way too many websites devoted to publishing “satirical news”, and most of them are not that funny.
The thing that bugs me the most about these sites is that, much like those terrible Seltzer and Friedberg movies, they don’t really do satire. Those movies just imitate better, more successful movies, and expect you to laugh. These sites post stories that could be true, but aren’t.
Let me pull a recent example of reasonably competent satire from The Onion:
“Elite Congressman Trained To Kill Legislation In 24 Different Ways”
The headline is a joke. The article is a joke. It is vaguely within the realm of possibility that a very unobservant person wouldn’t notice it was a joke, but it is very, very unlikely. It is topical to something happening right now, but it can’t be mistaken for actual news. By contrast, here are some articles from the also fake site “The Daily Currant.”
- “Hobby Lobby Fires Employee For Divorcing Husband”
- “US Bans The Import Of Russian Vodka”
- “Westboro Asks Public Not to Picket Phelps Funeral”
Those aren’t funny. They are, at best, mildly implausible. Imitating things that could actually be in the news isn’t comedy, it’s lazy.
Yes, it is kind of funny from time to time when a confused fundamentalist credulously reposts an Onion article in which JK Rowling confesses that she wrote Harry Potter to promote Satanism. But that is funny only because it’s rare, and because the satire is written in such a ridiculous, over the top way, that you’re not supposed to believe the story. Then the joke is on the person who fell for it, because it’s not something most people would fall for, so now the victim is funny.
Put it another way: “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift has long stood as an example of effective satire, because the proposal to eat the babies of the poor is recognizably making fun of economic conservatism. But it is also crazy. If there were many prominent politicians in Swift’s day who genuinely advocated the consumption, or at least execution, of babies, then it would not have been satire, it would have been a relatively unfunny riff on something that was really happening in the world.
Want to know why I hate this trend? Because I don’t want to be constantly reading “news stories” while having to consider the likelihood that the author of the article is trying to trick me on purpose. As it is, online media sites are already filled with slanted articles that distort the facts of what actually happened in the world lately. We need less of that, not more. It simply does not help the situation in the slightest to have a bunch of people out there who make it their business to lie to me on purpose. Debunking sites like Snopes.com — blessings be upon them — exist in order to decrease the frequency at which people are fooled by scams and hoaxes. Sites that create scams and hoaxes for a laugh are doing the opposite of Snopes’ mission, trying to fool more people more often. No thanks.