Or rather: Facebook gets irony perfectly well, but its users don’t trust themselves to catch it.
Sam Machkovech of tech news site Ars Technica has discovered that certain news stories posted Facebook now come prefixed with the word “[Satire]”, square brackets and all. Machkovech determined that this happens to links in the set of “related articles” box presented to you, the Facebook user, when you click through to the original news article and then return to Facebook. Of course, it goes without saying that the tag is only applied to satirical articles — for now, it appears that only The Onion is being targeted — but this may yet prove to be the thin end of the wedge.
To illustrate how this works in real life, here’s one of The Onion’s headlines that Machkovech found had been tarred with the “[Satire]” brush:
[Satire] Police Officer Doesn’t See A Difference Between Black, Light-Skinned Black Suspects
The Onion article itself is here, in case you haven’t been already been turned off by that “[Satire]” carbuncle. Facebook explained to Ars Technica what was going on:
We are running a small test which shows the text ‘[Satire]’ in front of links to satirical articles in the related articles unit in News Feed. This is because we received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others in these units.
In other words, readers simply do not trust themselves to catch written irony, even in a context — next to a link to The Onion, for instance — that clearly signals its ironic content. All this time I’ve laboured under the assumption that the parade of irony marks discussed here over the years have failed to gain traction because punctuating irony is fundamentally unnecessary; and all this time, it seems, I’ve been wrong.
What we have here is an opportunity. An opportunity to help Facebook’s irony-challenged users and to fundamentally change punctuation as we do it. Let us not suffer in silence as our news feeds are blighted by inelegant “[Satire]” tags: if ever there was a time and a place for an irony mark to succeed — any irony mark — this is it. The tilde (~) of the noughties; the evergreen inverted exclamation mark (¡); the newly-coined asterisk (*); Underware’s elegant zig-zag; the percontation mark (⸮) or the ψ-shaped point d’ironie: any one of these marks would be a better, more humane way to communicate a satirical headline to the irony-deficient.
To this end, I have started a petition on change.org asking Facebook to reconsider this blunt-force approach to irony. Join me, and let’s help Facebook and its users benefit from a better approach to ironic news posts!