Joke’s On Us! Fake News Sites Cashing In On Satire Without The Punch Line?

If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen the fake news sites claiming to be satire, with articles devoid of punch lines or any clear humor. Empire News, Daily Currant, and National Report all have names that sound like they could be real news platforms, look like they could be real news platforms, and read as though they are real news platforms, but they are fake news sites. They all have disclaimers specifying that they are satire news sites somewhere within their websites. Are these sites merely cashing in on clicks or could they be a style of satire that is less obvious?

“When Currant stories go viral, it’s not because their satire contains essential truths, but rather because their satire is taken as truth—and usually that ‘truth’ is engineered to outrage a particular frequency of the political spectrum,” New Republic writer Emmett Rensin wrote, condemning the fake news sites. “The Daily Currant‘s headlines don’t engage in subtlety so much as fail entirely to signal humorous intention. That would be acceptable, perhaps even clever, if the stories themselves skillfully exploited the reader’s initial credulity, the copy growing increasingly ludicrous until the reader realizes the joke.”

“Excuse my French but it’s my job as a journalist to tell the truth as I see it, and the truth is, what these sites are doing is s***,” a writer for The Higher Learning wrote. “They are exploiting ill-informed, gullible yet passionate people by intentionally generating ‘news’ designed to take advantage of our most powerful emotions.”

“If their stories are plausible, it’s because they aren’t funny enough. No one—almost no one—mistakes The Onion for a real news organization,” Politico‘s Dylan Byers wrote of a fake news site. “That’s not just because it has greater brand recognition. It’s because their stories make readers laugh.”

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— The Daily Currant (@TheDailyCurrant) August 7, 2014

“Satire is a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. It intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles. A writer in a satire uses fictional characters, which stand for real people, to expose and condemn their corruption,” according to the website Literary Devices.

These self-proclaimed satire sites don’t do that — right? These sites just outright lie for the money — right?

The Daily Currant founder and managing editor Daniel Barkeley emailed Politico claiming that his style of satire reaches to a deeper level, one that is less obvious.

“Our style of satire is as old as literature itself, but hasn’t recently been applied to news articles, which is why many in the media appear to be confused by it. But even in the narrow genre of written news satire, this tradition has a long history with Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain both notorious for publishing such articles.”

What if the satire within sites like Empire News and the Daily Currant isn’t actually the articles themselves? What if the corruption these so-called satire sites aim to expose is somewhere within the faith the American people have in the media, public figures, and our favorite Facebook friends to relay accurate facts?

Even The Washington Post has fallen for the so-called-satire site’s fake news stories. The mainstream newspaper erroneously reported that Sarah Palin was joining the Qatari-owned news network Al Jazeera. It’s almost as though anyone could fall for one of these fake news stories. Perhaps that’s why so many journalists are angry over this different style of satire: It makes readers and journalists question whether we ourselves could fall for the false stories. It exposes a potential vulnerability within so many of us.

“It’s a classic Currant con, one that relies on its mark wanting to believe a particular story is true,” Slate‘s Josh Voorhees wrote after Drudge fell for a satire story.

If the Slate writer is correct, perhaps these satire news sites with no apparent humor are trying to create a level of cognitive dissonance from the American people’s belief that the major media reports stories accurately and the reality that even respected news sources and trusted public figures are fallible. Maybe these fake news sites take aim at the hubris within most of us.

Esquire‘s Charles Pierce said it bluntly, “The Currant exists to punk the mainstream media.”

Think about it.

Major mainstream American news sources have falsely reported. Trusted public figures have shared erroneous information. When one trusted news source reports on a falsified story, other media outlets naturally assume the information is true and perpetuate it. Blogs explode, and readers share the latest “news” on their social media pages. Could it be this information-sharing domino effect is the “follies and foibles” of humanity that the fake news sites are actually criticizing, rather than the subjects within the articles?

What if we are the ones being held up to ridicule, and the the intent is to shame and mock us into self-improvement?

What if these types of fake news sites’ punch lines aren’t in their articles, because the purpose of their satire is to expose our reactions?

[Photo via Gawker]