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Fake Newspaper The Onion Tweets Fake Capitol Shooting; Did It Go Too Far?

Submitted by on September 30, 2011 – 10:16 amNo Comment

Satirical news Web site The Onion could be the subject of a very real investigation by the U.S. Capitol Police, due to a poorly-timed and misleading tweet yesterday. Promoting a comedic piece describing a fictional hostage situation at the Capitol, The Onion tweeted the message: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.”

Within the hour, the same account had clarified that “congressmen” were the supposed hostage takers, inviting skepticism; soon after that, the actual article was posted, making the joke clear.

But the original tweet left many disturbed, in part because of its timing. Only a day earlier, the FBI had announced the arrest of a U.S. citizen plotting an attack on the Pentagon and Capitol buildings.

The authorities responded completely seriously. “There is no credibility to these stories or the Twitter feeds. The U.S. Capitol Police are currently investigating the reporting,” said a police spokesperson.

Several readers found The Onion‘s tweet so distasteful, they assumed the account had been hacked. A similar scare occurred when a hacked Fox News account falsely announced the assassination of Barack Obama.

The article itself, which is bound to be buried underneath the controversy it has inspired, is a scathing and often hilarious criticism of Congress’ lack of reasoning and their willingness to sacrifice the American people when they “don’t get their way.” It jokes that a group of senators and representatives takes a group of schoolchildren hostage, demanding $12 trillion and “new desks.”

The Onion has become famous for their usually hilarious, completely fake news stories. Sometimes, the site’s stories capture the absurdities of current events so well, they seem almost true. The publication has even inspired a whole website dedicated to people who post Onion articles on Facebook, believing them to be true.

As of Thursday night, that Web site, Literally Unbelievable, featured a banner headline about the episode from NBC News Washington, and the quote from the Capitol Police.

What do you think? Does The Onion‘s joke fall flat and risk creating a panic?

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