About a dozen of you have asked me the same question in various different ways, so clearly people want my feedback on this.
For those of you who are too lazy to read the link, Facebook will begin adding a text tag to the beginning of links to pages from known satire sources, Rock City Times (RCT for those of you not so quick with acronyms) included, that simply reads [satire] to alert the potential reader that what they are about to read is not true.
I for one, think it is a great thing and I welcome the change. A number of sites including Reddit (occasionally) and Fark do this. I believe in the two and a half years that Rock City Times has produced satire based content there has been a bastardization of the word satire and what we do here. Let me explain.
RCT started very humbly in 2012 as a platform to discuss the things local news simply couldn’t discuss. We wanted to say the things everyone was thinking but honestly couldn’t. I chose classical satire as the method to build this.
When RCT started The Onion was about the only other satire site worth noting out there, and they handled national stories quite well. The Onion had become the Grey Lady (old nickname for the NY Times) of sorts in the satire news world. I wanted something different, I wanted something nimble and locally relevant. I knew the numbers would not be that high but the impact had the potential to be enormous. That is not to say that we never dabble in national news, we do frequently when something is worth writing, it is just not our primary focus.
Over the next year we, along with another satire site that launched right after us, enjoyed a number of huge boosts from people believing our stories were real. Again, the only other site out there was The Onion and everyone knew about it, why think that these two official-ish sounding sites would not be true. I will not say that I never indulged in writing stories that sounded real, but was not my primary focus and something I killed quickly.
Unfortunately high numbers attracted sites that were only interested in fooling people into believing their stories were true and sharing it. We focus on entertaining and satire stories that mattered to the local people who knew what we were, not tricking people into reading. That is what we want to be known for.
The rise of these fake news sites has completely killed off the art of satire and entertainment. It has gone from something people read for fun, entertainment, and opinion about issues to something that is just annoying. No one wants to be fooled, and is part of the reason I take serious offense to anyone thinking we are trying to create a hoax.
I try to put up as many warnings that RCT is fake as humanly possible without making some huge ugly stamp across the site. At that point if someone still reads the site for truth then that is the type of “special” that even a small tag that says [Satire] will not even fix.
Because of this shift in satire news I strongly debated on shifting RCT to real news earlier this year. I realized we served a role in local news but I knew with the rise in annoying fake websites we needed to find a dramatically different approach to serving this role. This is something I am still considering but the move by Facebook, who is our primary traffic source, makes us rethink the decision.
My hope is that sites like RCT and the Onion who do deliberate satire and want people to know it can become relevant again and clean out some of the garbage. For us the focus is always to serve as a local voice. Being hyper local allows us to just be funny and explore things that matter to our audience. Humor has a place in society, as we have mentioned before, we think it is part of advanced culture in a society.
I could be totally wrong here, it could completely tank our visits. If Facebook starts throttling our views it certainly would. But for now I see it as a welcome change. I think it will take out some of the garbage and allow us to shine a bit brighter.