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Peeling Back the Layers of the Onion Controversy

A simple 80-character tweet sent out by @TheOnion to its three million plus followers at approximately 9 a.m. Thursday morning. No additional links. No context.

For those of you unfamiliar with the publication, The Onion started as a satirical newspaper at the University of Wisconsin in 1988. TheOnion.com launched in 1996 and has been delivering its signature brand of humor to millions of readers ever since, via its website, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Needless to say, The Onion and its unique brand of humor have a very large following.

Back to yesterday’s hubbub. Following the Tweet, @TheOnion waited almost 10 minutes before posting a corresponding link to its homepage. The link led to an obviously fake story about member of Congress holding children hostage at the Capitol (read the story here).

What has played out over the next 24+ hours could best be debate between those individuals who “get it” and those who don’t.

Take one look at The Onion’s Facebook page and you’ll get a glimpse at the wide spectrum of responses, ranging from wholly supportive to completely disgusted.

“If you don’t get it, you’re stupid and you suck,” says one commenter. “Fire these [expletive] [expletive] with no sense of purpose or decency – this is not funny,” said one displeased individual.

Onion defenders say no one should take anything The Onion posts seriously, that the group is known worldwide for their unrelenting spoofs that often know no bounds. The proponents claim The Onion’s detractors clearly lack of sense of humor. Others say the publication was making a much deeper point; showing the true power of social media and how quickly information thought to be news is transferred with little fact checking.

Critics of yesterday’s ruse assert the publication crossed a line by posting such a seemingly serious update without including the context or a link with the headline. Even faithful Onion readers cry foul and maintain that the writers are better than cheap headlines like this.

Count the Capitol police as those not amused by the post. The office had to release an official statement reassuring the public there was no such violence presently taking place at the Capitol.

The responses seem to be split pretty much down the middle, half seeing the humor in the story and half saying the “joke” was out of bound. Do you think The Onion went too far? Could the controversy have been avoided if a link or context was included in the initial post?

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by Daniel Sweeney | posted | in News
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