We No Longer Search for “All the News that Isn’t”–It Finds Us (And then we copy it)
Posted by Rob_Henseler
In his book Socialnomics, Qualman reminds us of the Tina Fey/Sarah Palin skits on Saturday Night Live.
Do you remember how much fun people had watching and talking about these satires? Qualman finds the skits interesting in terms of how popular they were, and where people watched them. According to NBC estimates, 50 million people watched the skits, but according to Solutions Research Group, more than half the viewers saw these over the internet. People had it pushed directly to their social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
I wonder if that’s how Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets his news from The Onion. Does he have The Onion “liked” on his Facebook page? Maybe not anymore. The satirical news source, The Onion fooled Ahmadinejad and Iran’s official news agency with a story titled “Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama.” The spoof article states that results of a recent poll show that rural white Americans would rather vote for, go to a ball game with, and have a beer with Ahmadinejad than President Obama.
Well, not only has the internet made it really easy to share the news with others, it has made it really easy to steal the news as well. Iran’s official news agency took the article (you remember it was a satire, right?), passed it off as their own journalism, and then published it in Iran.
I suspect heads may roll over this goof-up.
Qualman’s book says that some people think the SNL skits with Tina Fey may have influenced the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Did some people think that was actually Sarah Palin? Did people mistake SNL’s comedy for serious journalism?
Similar questions can be asked of The Onion incident. Does Ahmadinejad really think I’d rather share a home brew with him than with President Obama? Really? The Iranian news agency can’t recognize the satire in The Onion?
Actually, I’m not surprised. Sad, but not surprised. Satire and verbal irony can be tough to catch. (Every time I go through Stephen Crane’s poem “Do Not Weep, Maiden, For War Is Kind” with my sophomores, I have a frightening number of students who insist that Crane’s message was pro-war, despite me and other students pointing out the gruesome battle imagery and lines such as “… a field where a thousand corpses lie.”)
So what if people get fooled by internet content? A lot of people are being fooled by what’s on the internet. It used to be that the reliable news sources “looked” reliable. They hade professional layout, quality graphics, good photography, and they were the only sources that could afford to be published or televised. Now, digital technology and the internet give everyone the ability to self-publish professional-looking content. If our material is packaged right, it might get passed along to others. The problem is that it takes a more sophisticated audience to recognize credible sources today than it did ten years ago. Maybe satirical internet content should have to carry a warning label or start with the standard opening, “A funny thing happened on the way to Tehran the other day…”
About Rob_HenselerRob has been teaching high school English and Language Arts for 20 years. When he's not at school, he enjoys making and listening to music, woodworking, canoeing, and hands-on traditional skills.
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