This morning, The Onion tweeted this: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.” There was no context, no link, and no hashtag. But if you’ve followed The Onion’s Twitter feed for a while, you probably could tell that this was the start of a day-long running joke centered around a couple of articles. They did something similar in May, when they tweeted throughout the day about a gigantic Bin Laden destroying New York and Washington.
And it was made clear within a few minutes, as followup tweets revealed the joke to be about Congress taking schoolchildren hostage. But not before a bunch of people got outraged!
It’s not super clear why what The Onion is doing is so bad. The Newsweek Tumblr tut-tutted “Just stop, Onion. Tweeting a faux-breaking news report of ‘screams and gunfire’ inside the Capitol, especially on a day that brings more details about a homegrown terror threat targeting D.C. with drone-delivered C-4, is just too real a threat to spoof.” So, joking about terrorism is totally off-limits, then? Why haven’t you complained about the dozens and dozens of other Onion terrorism spoofs in the past?
People seem to take issue with the straightforward nature of that first tweet. The Capitol Police are investigating, apparently, but that should be a pretty short investigation. Really, this is the fucking Onion, people. You think they’re suddenly breaking news about a terror attack? When has The Onion ever, ever reported real news? And since when has The Onion ever shied away from controversial topics? Remember, this is the publication that famously responded to 9/11 comedically before anyone else. Getting mad or confused about what The Onion does puts you in some pretty embarrassing company.
So to people who are mad about literally nothing, about a joke you didn’t get, from a source that has pushed boundaries many times before: go manufacture some outrage about something else.