Unfunny, unlike: The Onion backfires

2011-09-29 22:34

Washington - The satirical news publication The Onion gets a lot of laughs by crossing the line.

But even some of the most devoted fans of the popular humour outlet were complaining on Thursday that it may have gone too far.

At around 09:30, The Onion put out a message to the 3.1 million followers of its Twitter feed @TheOnion. The identical message was posted to The Onion's Facebook page, which has 1.9 million fans.

"BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building," the message said.

And then silence for 10 minutes.

Subsequent tweets and Facebook updates made it clear the message was part of a joke and quashed speculation that The Onion had been hacked.

"Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage," it said with a link to a parody article on about US lawmakers taking children hostage and vowing to shoot one every hour unless they got "$12 trillion in cash".

As the original Onion tweet rocketed around Twitter, US Capitol Police issued a statement saying conditions there were "normal" and there was "no credibility to these stories or the Twitter feeds".

Day after al-Qaeda arrest

"The US Capitol Police are currently investigating the reporting," added a spokesperson for the US Capitol Police, Sergeant Kimberly Schneider.

Contacted by AFP, The Onion declined comment.

The joke news story came one day after US authorities said they had arrested a US follower of al-Qaeda who allegedly planned to fly explosive-packed, remote controlled aircraft into the Pentagon and the US Capitol.

The original message about "screams and gunfire" in the Capitol received hundreds of comments on The Onion's Facebook page, most of them negative.

"Unfunny. unlike," wrote Brendan Burke.

"Poor choice for humour. Hostage taking and gunfire have never been funny," said Pat Donovan Baessler.

"There's a fine line between irreverent humour and poor taste," said Lori Hein. "This post has crossed that line."

Reader Eric Vogel parodied The Onion's original message for his comment.

Not funny

"BREAKING: Witnesses report that The Onion isn't as funny as it used to be," Vogel said.

Other readers expressed surprise anybody could be offended by The Onion.

"Isn't the whole point of The Onion to be tasteless?! Hello!" wrote Debbie Pollack DeKalb.

The Onion is known for attempting to inject a dose of humour into sensitive subjects with fake news stories.

Just two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it published a story with the headline "Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell."

  • CapeTownJunk - 2011-09-30 00:30

    Humour is a hit and miss thing. The Onion has been mostly hilarious for the best part of two decades, so I think that by now they've earned the right to be forgiven for a relatively insignificant lapse in judgement. Besides, not only is it Twitter, but it's @TheOnion on Twitter. If you dare to take @TheOnion seriously (even when they're trying to be serious), then you probably ought to work at being less gullible. And whenever news appears to break on Twitter, you're better off verifying it from a news site you trust. Once you see serious verification of a Twitter rumour, then you can start thinking about taking that story seriously.

  • PRK - 2011-09-30 06:53

    That's just the problem - humour shouldn't have to be a hit and miss thing. As long as the context is there (and it is - you're reading it on the Onion ffs), literally anything should be fair game. That's my opinion in any case.

  • TextOfReason - 2011-09-30 08:55

    I'm still giggling. That's what makes the onion so funny, it doesn't care about how sensitive the public is about topics that the US government and media houses have been over-sensationalising for years. Go Onion!

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