The Gorilla Channel Satire Demonstrates The Ridiculousness Of Banning Fake News

from the gorilla-channel-hot-takes dept

If you spend much time on political Twitter -- or the more fun elements of the self-described "Weird Twitter" -- then you're probably already quite aware of the truly wonderful @pixelatedboat account. That account's biggest claim to fame is Milkshake Duck (the best absurdist encapsulation of how the internet frequently builds up some new internet superstar out of nothing, only then to discover their hero has flaws...), but the account also has a very long (and very amusing) history of posting "fake screenshots." See, for example, the one PixelatedBoat posted on New Years, satirizing Neil deGrasse Tyson:

On Thursday evening, just as everyone was going crazy over Michael Wolff's book about the Trump White House, PixelatedBoat posted an obviously satirical screenshot of it, claiming that White House staffers, at the President's demand, had created a special "Gorilla Channel" that the President watched 17 hours a day, and which they had to alter to include more gorilla fights.

Except... as you may have already heard, what seemed obvious to many of us was apparently not so obvious to those with what some have referred to as Trump Derangement Syndrome. Basically, because there actually are so many crazy stories about President Trump and his administration -- and the Wolff book was already revealing a few more of these "nutty" anecdotes -- some people were primed to accept this satire as fact... and they ran with it.

Now, let's just take a step back for a second and point out something: this is what good satire does. It fools people. When 100% of the people get the satire, it's not good satire. A large part of the point of good satire is to fool people and help make people think about things. The classic of this genre, of course, Jonathan's Swift's A Modest Proposal, in which he merely suggested feeding poor children to the wealthy as a way to alleviate the problems of poverty. It was, of course, a powerful way to mock the attitudes some had towards the poor. And, a lot of people thought he was serious. That's part of why we still remember the work today, centuries later.

And, with PixelatedBoat's tweet... a fairly large number of people -- including some "high profile" Twitter users -- completely fell for it, which then quickly led others to mocking them. Even in cases where some people initially realized it was fake... they began to question themselves. Perhaps my favorite response was from the NY Times' Farhad Manjoo (who is a super nice person... but... really...)

Manjoo then told everyone to stop posting satirical fake screenshots, which seems like a bit of hole digging:

But that's wrong. Satire is an extremely powerful force in getting people to think more carefully about a variety of different social issues -- and whether intentional or not, PixleatedBoat's tweet did exactly that.

But, what's much more interesting to me is how this impacts two other recent stories. First, last week we wrote about French President Macron's awful idea to "ban fake news" in France during election seasons. And, second, Germany's new "social media platforms must delete bad speech" law, which has already been used to go after satire on social media.

As Fabio Chiusi noted, if the whole Gorilla Channel PixelatedBoat saga had played out in Germany, Twitter might be facing a €50 million fine (and its employees a €5 million fine). And that doesn't even get to the situation in France. After all, this satire is "fake news." It literally is exactly that. But it's also a perfect example of why banning fake news is so dumb. Beyond the difficulty of determining what really is fake news, there is plenty of "fake news" that we want to protect. And satire is a big part of it.

I mean, banning "fake news" would require shutting down The Onion. Sure, you may know its satire -- but others get fooled by The Onion all the time. And that's part of the fun -- in part because it can spark discussions, debate and (*gasp*) actual introspection. Under the rules being pushed in Europe right now (and which some in the US would like to emulate), banning or punishing satire would cripple some of the best social commentary out there. "A Modest Proposal" may have made some people angry, but it made many more think. Just because some people get fooled isn't a reason to ban such things or to push for censorship. It's a reason to encourage discussion, debate, introspection and learning -- which is often pushed forward thanks to satire.

Now, when's that Gorilla Channel going to be available to the wider public?

Filed Under: censorship, fake news, free speech, gorilla channel, gullible, pixelated boat, satire, weird twitter

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The First Word

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  1. icon
    John85851 (profile), 9 Jan 2018 @ 9:57am


    I'm surprised no one has brought up the word "truthiness" yet, Stephen Colbert's word for something that you think is probably true, even though there's no basis in fact.

    Does Trump watch Gorilla TV? It sounds like it could be true.
    Do vaccines cause autism? Sure, why not- it's easier to believe than looking at the medical data.
    Was Obama born in Kenya? Well, he's black, so why not?

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