Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Is Facebook having a laugh?

In a move that sounds suspiciously like satire, the social networking service is running a trial to label news stories that are ... er ... satirical. Katie Wright reports

Trial and error: Facebook are now labelling news stories that are satirical
Trial and error: Facebook are now labelling news stories that are satirical

A new Facebook trial is tagging stories on users' news feeds that have come from satirical American news site The Onion as 'satire'.

"We are running a small test," Facebook said in a statement to tech news site Ars Technica, "because we received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others."

But this 'small sample' is clearly more far-reaching than they're letting on, because when I last checked my Facebook feed, I saw the the square-bracketed label on Onion articles which had appeared under a story about the trial.

Of course, this isn't the first time the voice of reason has spoken up in defence of gullible people.

As far back as the 1580s, printer Henry Denham thought that a backwards question mark should be used at the end of a sentence to denote a rhetorical question – and we all know how well that caught on don't we? (It faded into obscurity in the 17th Century.)

Then, in 2010, a couple of geniuses launched the SarcMark, a curly punctuation mark that is now widely used on the internet to signify sarcasm.

Oh, wait, no it isn't. It, too, failed to take off and SarcMark.com now sits forlornly, a monument to the so-called lowest form of wit.

Let's hope Facebook takes heed and swiftly ditches the satire signpost. Because, if they don't, it might mean the end is nigh both for common sense and for LiterallyUnbelievable.org, the blog dedicated to chronicling the hilarious comments that ensue when social media users take comedy content literally.

There was the person who marvelled, "It's hard to believe, because Dick van Dyke is so likeable" when The Onion "revealed" that the Diagnosis Murder actor had confessed to being a serial killer.

Or the time when the site "reported" on new "nosephones" from Sony that deliver smells instead of sounds. "You would look like a complete idiot," scoffed one complete idiot who believed the story.

Cutting off the lifeblood of such a hallowed internet institution would be a tragedy. And when I say that, I am not joking.

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