I make fun of people who take satire literally. I enjoy websites like Literally Unbelievable, and chortle in a superior fashion when ideological or social opponents fall for satire. When right-wing sites sloppily repeated clear satire about a nutty liberal college professor I criticized them and used it as an opportunity to repeat one of my favorite aphorisms:
Someone once said — and I wish I could figure out who it was — that all satire is a shared joke between the writer and the reader at the expense of a hypothetical third person — the dupe — who takes the text at face value.
Of course, sometimes the dupe is not hypothetical.
So of course I (albeit briefly) fell for satire yesterday. I was the non-hypothetical dupe. It's Canada's fault.
The satire came courtesy of a parody site called Modern Women Digest. It ran a thoroughly gross and obnoxious piece called "Top Five Reasons Why I'm Glad Paul Walker Is Dead," collected thousands of angry, obscene, and threatening comments, and then ran a story about how the fictitious author ("Adora Bull") was in hiding and on suicide watch because of the reaction. Canada's National Post picked it up and ran the story as truth: that a blogger had written a list of reasons to be happy about Walker's death and was now in hiding because of threats. The National Post has scrubbed the story, but not before I preserved it for posterity. The Vancouver Sun also ran the story as true; as of this morning it is still up, though I have preserved it in case they memory-hole it.
The story is entirely made up. That is to say: Adora Bull is made up, the "five reasons" post was trolling, and while the angry comments are real (and attracting them was no doubt the purpose of the trolling), the story about the fictitious blogger being in hiding is fabricated. The National Post and Vancouver Sun fell for it entirely. And I believed the Canadians. Caanaaadaaaaaaa!!!!
I became a dupe when a friend posted the National Post story on Facebook. I read it, committed an error of judgment by taking it at face value because a "mainstream newspaper" had reported it, and tweeted it to make a point about how one should not troll unless one is prepared to pay the price for trolling. Afterwards I started reading the underlying stories on the Modern Women Digest site. The tone and language of a follow-up story about "Adora Bull's" car being vandalized made me suspicious, so I Googled Modern Women Digest and saw that it's satirical. In mitigation, I figured out that I had been conned within 20 minutes. In aggravation, that just shows I could have figured it out myself before repeating the story.
So: here are the errors in judgment I committed:
1. I gave the story automatic credence because it was published in a "mainstream" newspaper like the National Post.
2. I gave the story automatic credence because a friend posted it on Facebook as truth.
3. I gave the story automatic credence because it confirmed a narrative I believe in — in this case, the narrative "some people like to talk smack but don't like the natural and probable social consequences of talking smack."
4. I didn't investigate because I wanted quickly to tweet a one-liner about the story and link it ("Don't be a troll if you can't pay the toll"). First!
There are many lessons we can draw from the story. One is about the nastiness of the original five-reasons piece about a person's death. Whether or not it was meant as satire, it reflects badly on the person who wrote it, as my co-blogger Patrick has pointed out. Another lesson is about how we allow things on the internet to outrage us, even when outraging us may be the product someone is selling. In other words, we're easily trolled. Illustrating that may or may not have been part of the point of the scam. Finally, a sobering lesson: you can't believe something just because a friend tells you or because it runs in a "mainstream" newspaper.
Conduct yourselves accordingly.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017