Facebook is piloting a Satire tag for fake news stories in the newsfeed, Ars Technica reports. “We received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others in these units,” a Facebook representative apparently told Ars Technica.
According to the report, the company has been piloting the tag for a month and is applying it to more outlets than just the Internet’s favorite satirical news site, The Onion. No word on if it will become official policy or what news sites will be affected.
Facebook is already an unbearable enough place as of late, at least in my case. Awful national and international news stories continue to appear in my personal feed alongside friends’ amateur political commentary and personal quibbles, and that mix makes the occasional ray of satirical, hilarious sunshine from off-kilter sites like The Onion welcome.
Sadly, Facebook has begun trying to ruin even these fun articles by appending their titles with a “satire” tag.
The major catch to this auto-tagging is that it only appears in a “related articles” box. Here’s how it works: If a friend posts an Onion link to his or her Facebook feed, click on it for a laugh.
Once you’re done at The Onion and come back to your desktop or laptop browser, Facebook will have generated three related articles in a box directly below whatever you’d clicked on.
In the case of an Onion link, that box will usually contain at least one article from the same site, only that article’s headline will begin with the word “satire” in brackets. As of press time, we were able to duplicate this result on three different computers from different accounts, one of which is shown above.
We can only assume this was implemented as a reaction to users believing that Onion links are nonfiction reports (you can lose hours flipping through Literally Unbelievable, a site that catalogs such boneheaded moments), but we’re not sure what compelled Facebook to go so far as to assert editorial control.
Maybe the company still feels bad about how users reacted to its intentional News Feed manipulation from 2012.
What’s more confusing is this limited implementation, which itself takes a while to explain. Original posts on friends’ feeds and The Onion’s official Facebook page don’t come with a tag.
If users save the article to a read-later list, the tag will vanish as well. And other satiric sites, particularly The Onion’s newest sibling site, Buzzfeed-spoof Clickhole, are immune to the tag.
We reached out to Facebook to find out how long this practice has been in effect, whether we should expect to see it spread further across the site, and if any other sites fall under the “satire” tag umbrella.
The company’s PR team responded by asking us for screengrabs of the “satire” tag, but we’ve received no further response since then. We’ve also reached out to The Onion for a statement, but mostly because we can’t wait to laugh at the article it prepares in response.
A Facebook representative issued the following statement to Ars Technica: “We are running a small test which shows the text ‘[Satire]’ in front of links to satirical articles in the related articles unit in News Feed. This is because we received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others in these units.”
That test has been ongoing for over a month, and while we were told other satirical sites’ links have received the same tags, we were not given a list of those sites. Our question about whether the tag would ever appear in other places on Facebook remained unanswered.