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At what point do you stop and think, "Hey, that can't be true...can it?" (iStockphoto)

Really, Don't Believe Everything You Read

by John Asante
May 29, 2011

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In the age of the Internet, every so often, we stumble upon a site or receive some spam that reinforces the old adage: Don't believe everything you read. Off the top of my head, I can think of the infamous Nigerian 419 letters and recent changes to Wikipedia pages (or some full Wikipedia pages in general). Some are easier to decipher than others. When we realize it's a fake, typically through a Google search or a tip from a friend, we feel duped and sheepish — that is, if you can discover the truth. When satire enters the mix, it's a whole different ballgame. Enter: The Onion.

The weekly publication offers its print version for free, right next to other papers at newspaper boxes near bus stops. Its online presence has expanded in recent years, and now, The Onion has its own news and sports networks.

Yes, The Onion invests a lot of time in creating attention-grabbing headlines (there's even a This American Life episode that explores their editorial process). And the time seems to pay off, by creating stories poking fun at our moral fabric, which tend to go viral on the Internet with a click of the mouse.

But how believable can these headlines sound — "Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex" and " Report: Kevin Durant's Success Could Lead To More NBA Teams Drafting Tall Players"?

Before you answer that question, check out this video from The Onion News Network, about a new plan to change the ending to the last Harry Potter film, and see if you have the same reaction:

Now, in the same vein as Lamebook, a Tumblr blog called Literally Unbelievable culls heated Facebook posts displaying people's reactions to stories like these from the satirical publication.

Even if you haven't a clue about The Onion's target demographic or journalistic values, perhaps it would help to take a peek at the "Help" section on the company's site (Hint: it's located on the bottom left-hand side of the front page):

The Onion is a satirical weekly publication published 52 times a year on Thursdays. The Onion is published by Onion, Inc. The contents of this material are Copyright 2010 by Onion, Inc. and may not be reprinted or re-transmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of the publisher. The Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.

The Onion uses invented names in all its stories, except in cases where public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental.

So Google to your heart's content for verification, if you must. But if The Onion's the source, let's look before we leap.

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