Forbes’ April Fools’ faux pas shows why satire is forbidden at B/R
At Bleacher Report we sometimes get pushback from writers about our rule against writing “satire,” which for our purposes is defined as writing things that are not true as if they were true. Sports Pickle and the Onion are two sites that engage in this type of writing.
We’re fans! We just don’t allow that sort of thing at Bleacher Report, and writers sometimes complain about it because that kind of writing can be funny and fun.
Yesterday was April Fools’ Day, and it provided a terrific illustration of why satire is out of bounds, courtesy of Gawker.
“Legitimate News Source Ditches Credibility for April Fool’s Fun,” reads the headline on a brief post about how Forbes’ April Fools story had become the top story on Google News before Forbes yanked the story down. The story, not exactly a shining example of gut-busting cleverness, had Mitt Romney dropping out of the presidential race and endorsing Rick Santorum.
Google News has sort of taken the fun out of the old April Fools’ Day joke story for sites that want to be taken seriously the other 364 days of the year, because it can’t distinguish satire or fake news from the real thing.
Websites and before them newspapers traditionally provided broad clues that April Fools stories were fake, eventually. Each paragraph of the story would be increasingly absurd until you figured out that it had to be phony. Or you’d click “read more” and the joke would be revealed. Or you’d turn the page of the newspaper only to find out that what you’d been reading had been the back page, upside-down. You’d remember the date and you’d say, “They got me!”
But Google News and other search engines provide no such clues. And it’s too bad but true that the way the world works now is that people spread stories on social media having just read the headline. Who knows how many people tweeted and Facebooked and Tumblr’d and whatever else about that Romney story without having clicked through and realized that their legs were being pulled.
It’s the 21st century’s way of making Winston Churchill’s 20th century saw as true as ever: A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Not much good can come out of this kind of deception. It’s one thing to give people a chuckle with a funny story on a website. It’s another to fool them, through the placing of that story on search engines and social media, which really can’t be stopped, into thinking that the story is true.
At that point, it’s not harmless fun. It’s damaging to the site’s and the author’s credibility, and we’ve talked about this before: Credibility is something you only get one chance to lose.