Have you ever been scrolling through your news feed on Facebook and seen a headline that sounds so great that it seems too good to be true? It probably is. Satirical news sites have thrived in this age of clickbait, and while that may be a boon to comedy, it’s a hazard for information.
Sometimes real news organizations fall for a story. The New Republic reports that foreign news agencies, unaware of the satire, have repeated fake stories as real news. Iran’s Fars News agency fell for a fake poll from The Onion, as did the official Chinese newspaper, which was suckered by a story on Kim Jong Un being named “sexiest man alive.” Foreign news agencies can be forgiven for not understanding American satire, but the Washington Post even believed a fake story. It, along with Breitbart and The Drudge Report got stories from The Daily Currant. Oops.
The Daily Currant doesn’t make it as obvious that it’s a “satirical newspaper” like others, such as The Onion do. Their stories are mostly joke-free. The headlines are meant to get clicks and they usually do because they sound so believable. There are several similar sites, loaded with stories that are not immediately discernible as satire. They are all clickbait, designed only to drive traffic to the site.
Here are 20 headlines. Half of them are real and half come from a satirical website. Try to guess which are true and which are false:
1. Super Bowl To Be Played In Ireland, NFL Fans Outraged
2. McDonald’s Testing 60-Second Drive Thru Guarantee
3. He Was Naked, On Crack and in Alligator’s Mouth
4. Second Giant Sea Creature Washed Ashore Along Santa Monica Coastline – Alarms Sound Over Radioactive Giantism
5. Man Threatens to Blow Up City FBI Office With Bomb-filled Burrito
6. Monkey Selfie Drives Lawyers Bananas
7. Trump To Build New Luxury Apartments: Back Alley Entrance For The Poor
8. Woman in Sumo Wrestler Suit Assaults Ex-Girlfriend Who Waved At A Man Dressed As Snickers Bar
9. Boy Suspended From School For Reading Bible During Recess
10. Motorist Dressed As Batman Escapes Ticket in Maryland
11. 59 People Die of Marijuana Overdose in Colorado and Washington After Legalization
12. Ann Coulter: ‘Give Ebola to Migrant Children’
13. French Bees Produce Blue Honey
14. UN Warns Britain of Child ‘Voodoo’ Victims
15. Michelle Obama Spotted With Hunky Evander Holyfield While Obama On Hawaii Vaca – Barack Left Alone As Marriage Teeters
16. Boy, Nine, and His 62-year-old Bride Who Has Children TRIPLE His Age, Renew Their Marriage Vows to Make His Dead Ancestors Happy
17. Muslim Company Forcing Christian Employees To Wear Headscarfs
18. Local Pet Supply Store Owner Eats Dog Food for a Month
19. Giant Mysterious Eyeball Found on Florida Beach
20. NYPD Cop Who Killed Baby Cleared Of All Charges
Scroll to the bottom of the page to see how you did! Don’t feel bad if you thought some of the fake headlines were true, it happens to the best of us. This little quiz is meant to show exactly how easy it is to dupe the Internet with hoax “news” stories. These lies are created to get us to click on that URL. But are they harmless? Luke O’Neil of The New Republic, doesn’t think so:
… their proliferation could do actual damage to political discourse and the media in general… satire is supposed to shed light on important truths that are hard to swallow… Juicing an already true-enough premise with more unbelievability simply adds to the informational noise pollution—without even the expected payoff of a laugh.
When you look at these headlines — and others like them — you can see that they are meant to stir a certain part of the population. Partisanship being what it is today, plausible-yet-fake headlines get shared readily on social media. Which gives these pseudo-news sites exactly what they want — clicks. Which spawns other, similar sites.
Yes, it’s hard to tell what’s truth and what is clickbait. But, often, a quick visit to snopes.com can clear things up. If you see a headline that seems too good to be true… well, now you know.