Onion Tweets Hostage Message On Capitol; Investigated

(Original story on the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog here.)

President Obama was in Denver last month. He was going to give a speech in a neighborhood about 6 miles (10 km) from my apartment, quite literally down the road from me.

I am not a fan of him, so all I posted on Facebook was something to the effect of “Obama is in town! Who wants to go and protest?!” because I knew that if I even joked about hurting the President, the Secret Service would get on my case pretty quickly. That is because while protesting against the President and/or his policies is considered one’s right to the freedom of speech, threatening to hurt or kill him is a crime.

(In fact, I am running a risk for writing the words those words so closely to one another on my blog. We all know that the bureaucracy “takes security very seriously” — euphemism for not recognizing context of what is being said or written, and then overreacting to said speech or post. They should really hire a communication expert, in which case, I will gladly volunteer my experience and expertise.)

The Onion is known to be a satirical website, and it did not threaten any elected official or member of the bureaucracy in this case. It will be interesting to see how the investigations go, but remember — in most states and countries, threatening to hurt or kill a publicly elected official or member of the bureaucracy is a probably a criminal offense and is not considered freedom of speech.

The Onion’s Twitter Posts Draw Scrutiny


The United States Capitol Police on Thursday said they were investigating The Onion, a satiric media organization, for making false reports on Twitter claiming that there was a hostage situation inside the Capitol building.

Starting at 10:33 a.m., The Onion’s Twitter account began spewing the fake messages that began with this post: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.”

Ten minutes later, the Twitter account posted: “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage.”

The posts are related to a satiric article and doctored photo on The Onion’sWeb site that describes a fake hostage situation.

The photos portray Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican from Ohio, holding a gun to a young schoolgirl’s head.

The article begins with: “Brandishing shotguns and semiautomatic pistols, members of the 112th U.S. Congress took a class of visiting schoolchildren hostage today, barricading themselves inside the Capitol rotunda and demanding $12 trillion dollars in cash.”

The Onion’s Twitter messages went out on the same morning that real headlines were dominated by the arrest of a Massachusetts man in connection with a plot to blow up the United States Capitol and the Pentagon.

The posts, which were widely shared around the Web, prompted the Capitol Police to issue a statement declaring them fake: “Twitter feeds are reporting false information concerning current conditions at the U.S. Capitol. Conditions at the U.S. Capitol are currently normal. There is no credibility to these stories or the Twitter feeds.”

There was mixed reaction on Twitter, but, for the most part, many people said that they did not find The Onion’s approach amusing.

Writing from Seattle, Mark Olwick posted: “@the onion. You realize that this isn’t funny at all, right? Please stop that gag.”

Anne Finn, a spokeswoman for The Onion, said that the Twitter account was not hacked. She declined to answer questions about The Onion’s decision to post messages that a hostage situation was underway at the U.S. Capitol.

The company also posted similar updates on its Facebook page. The page has 1.9 million fans.

Do you like this blog? Become a fan on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter@SocMediaGaffes! Follow Nicholas on Twitter @nicholas_cheong.


Author: Nicholas

Experienced Mortgage Banker in the Denver metro area.

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