Posts on Facebook and Twitter can make it difficult to distinguish between news, satire, opinion, and intentional misinformation created to generate web traffic. The Boston Globe argues that we have a “fake news problem.” It’s also a media literacy problem.
In Chapter 8 of Becoming a Critic, we look at different types of humor and provide a coding scheme to help people recognize each type. Satire “makes fun of well known people and situations.” Fake news, like The Daily Show, make fun of politicians, current events, and campaigns and package it – using production and narrative techniques – in a way that mimics but doesn’t exactly replicate ‘real’ news.
On the other hand, false news stories that are created to seem real are not satire; these are a type of victim humor. Victim humor is when we laugh at peoples’ misunderstanding or ignorance. In the case of false news, the people who comment on and share these news stories are the “victims” to be laughed at for their misunderstanding. It is an online, modern-day version of Punk’d, and every single one of us is a potential victim if we aren’t critical, literate media consumers.
Perhaps we have just stumbled upon an important qualitative distinction between satirical “fake news” and the victim humor in “false news” online.