Founded in 1988, The Onion is a parody news organization that publishes fake articles like “Busch Gardens Unveils New 9,600-Mile-Long Endurance Coaster” and “LensCrafters, Pearle Vision Agree To Prisoner Exchange.” The Onion’s websites hit around 11 million total unique visitors per month and a lot of the traffic is driven by Facebook. Many gullible Facebook users believe that the headlines for these articles are true so the social network company is testing out a ‘[Satire]’ tag in front of links to satirical content.
Facebook said that it is adding the [Satire] tags because of feedback that it received from users wanting a way to “distinguish satirical articles from others.”
If the [Satire] tag helps people realize that The Onion articles are satire, then it will give the blog LiterallyUnbelievable.org less to write about. LiterallyUnbelievable takes screenshots of an article from The Onion posted to Facebook along with angry comments from people that were fooled by the headline.
The “related articles” selected for each story are based on an algorithm. The Boston Globe recently criticized the algorithm for displaying inappropriate related articles about First Lady Michelle Obama after content was posted related to her encounter with a 10-year-old girl whose father lost his job. The three related articles were either mostly false or filled with inappropriate commentary. “If you are spreading false information, you have a serious problem on your hands. They shouldn’t be recommending stories until they have got it figured out,” said Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, in an interview with the Boston Globe.
Facebook spokesman Jessie Baker said that the news feed units were designed to surface popular links that are shared on Facebook, but the company does not make any judgment about whether the links are true or false “just as we don’t make any judgment about whether the content of your status updates are true or false.”