A joke without a punchline is just a lie. And there sure are a lot of missing punchlines on the internet these days.
You've probably seen these "fake news" websites floating around on social media recently. You might have even shared a story from one of them yourself! But don't be ashamed. We all make mistakes. And hopefully this little guide will help you keep an eye out for the worst of the fakes.
Remember that story about loggers accidentally cutting down the world's oldest tree? It went viral in environmentalist circles, but turned out to be a fake put out by the "satire" site World News Daily Report. The weird part is that the real story that it was clearly inspired by is actually better.
With articles like First Rehab Center For People Addicted to Apple Products Inaugurated in New York, the site doesn't always seem intent on deceiving people. But it's still not very good. Not very good at all.
Stories like North Korea Unable to Access Their AOL Dial-Up pretty much say it all about the Free Wood Post. It's basically The Onion, if The Onion were written by fourth graders digging through USA Today for story ideas.
Did you see a story making its way through Facebook recently about the accused Boston bomber getting beaten up in prison? It was a fake news item created by Empire News, a painfully unfunny site with other gems like Toddler Hospitalized With 2nd Degree Burns From Radiant Heat Flooring. Hilarious, right?
Stories like Huzlers' Subway Discovered To Be Using Cockroaches In Food, FDA to Close U.S. Subway Restaurants might be obviously fake to some people. But there's always someone who thinks it's real. Especially your aunt who already thinks fast food is a government-run conspiracy to keep the population docile. Which it is, by the way. Makes you think.
Look, it happens to the best of us. Unfortunately our good friends at Deadspin were recently taken in by a fake story from the Betoota Advocate. The Olympics is not going to have 3-on-3 basketball. But why not? Sillier things have been Olympic sports in the past.
Frankly I'm just waiting for the day when I uncritically re-report some story from a fake news site. It's bound to happen. It's only a matter of time. Let's call it Actually's Law. But yeah, the Betoota Advocate is generally not funny, which is part of the problem.
If you read a story last year about an enormous giant squid that washed up on the shores of Southern California, you can thank/blame Lightly Braised Turnip. Admittedly, the name Lightly Braised Turnip is kind of a fun play on the world's most famous (and actually funny) fake news site, The Onion. But far too many of LBT's stories are clearly just meant to deceive people for viral shares.
Humor is subjective, so I don't doubt that there are plenty of people who take pleasure from reading The Borowitz Report. And more power to them. But there are way too many stories that are simply too plausible, which often leads them to go viral because there's not a single joke in the story. Day Old Congress Most Hated Ever? Yeah, that's pretty much true. Obama Urged To Apologize For Anti-Fear Remark? Is there anything in that headline that strikes you as implausible or funny?
Perhaps The Borowitz Report is an indictment of modern politics in the most crushing way. Maybe Borowitz is using his platform as a kind of long con that ultimately makes us realize we live in a world that's simply beyond parody. But for the time being, it seems to serve primarily as something to get passed around and mistaken for real news.
Stories like Joni Ernst Says She Used to Wear Bucket On Head For No Apparent Reason honestly give me pause. The post is so incredibly absurd and infantile that I suddenly think I might not be smart enough to understand it. Is The Borowitz Report working on an entirely new level? Is it so bad that it's good? Probably not.
Banking on political outrage is generally a safe business bet. Just look at cable news. So when you see fake stories from The National Report like Planned Parenthood Proposes Mobile Abortion Services, it's pretty clear who the target audience might be.
The question becomes how long the outrage economy might last with Facebook's new automated tags calling out fake news. My guess? We have plenty of good viral fake news years ahead of us.
Over and over again the website Daily Currant has succeeded at getting its terrible fake stories shared by people ready to believe that Rick Santorum was on Grindr or Sarah Palin had joined Al-Jazeera. The latter was even picked up by the Washington Post.
In fact, a number of respected news outlets have re-reported stories from the Daily Currant. They even caused one of the best New York Times corrections of all time. After a dumb story wherein Kanye West says that he has a better ass than his wife Kim Kardashian, the Times lifted the quotes for their own story about Kardashian's butt.
The correction from the New York Times:
Editors' Note: November 22, 2014
An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derrière to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West's quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column.
Yep. That was a real thing that happened in America's paper of record. And it's inexcusable coming from news outlets that aren't doing their homework. But somewhat understandable when there's not a single joke in the entire story.
This list doesn't even count the fake news purveyors that only exist on Twitter. Like that terribly unfunny North Korean government account. There are plenty of other fake news sites out there like The Onion that are actually funny. But sadly, people still mistake these for real news outlets. There's even a website called Literally Unbelievable that tracks people who still think The Onion is a real news source.
Are you dying to create your own fake news to see if you can get a hoax to go viral? Try Global Associated News. They let you plug in a name and choose from different locations and professions to auto-generate a hoax story. If you can't beat 'em, may as well join 'em. Right?