An article from satire news organization The Onion about a figure skater falling through the ice during the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia tricked a number of people into believing it’s real.
The article, which has more than 50,000 shares on Facebook, says that “in a race against time, local emergency crews reportedly rushed to rescue Italian figure skater Carolina Kostner Wednesday after the Olympian plunged through a hazardous thin patch of ice during her short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace.”
However, The Onion has been publishing satire–and only satire–since the late 1980s. The disclaimer for the website says the Onion is “a satirical weekly publication” and that it “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.”
At least one media outlet published the Onion story on its website. Voice of the Valley, a community paper in Maple Valley, Wash., completely republished the Onion story before it was taken down.
On the Onion’s Facebook page about the figure skating article, some users were reminding others that The Onion is just a satire website. “The fantastic part about the people commenting on this is that they think if there was a hole in indoor rink ice, there would be water underneath. IT’S NOT A LAKE!” wrote one person who didn’t fall for the satire.
It’s not the first time that the Onion has published an article that people thought was real.
In 2012, The Onion published an article saying North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un was named the publication’s “sexiest man alive,” which was later republished by Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily. The Chinese state-run newspaper published more than 50 photos of Kim to go along with it before it was deleted.
Following the conclusion of George Zimmerman trial last year, The Onion published an article saying Zimmerman won the Florida state lottery. The article was shared tens of thousands of times, and thousands thought it was real.
More recently, an article about “Stop and Kiss”–a play on the New York Police Department’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy–also was believed by many. More than 300,000 people shared the article.
The AV Club, a sister publication to the Onion that focuses mainly on music and film, elaborated on the matter.
“You might also know that, on occasion, its satirical stories are taken as true because either a) the reader’s never heard of The Onion, b) the stories are distributed on the Internet or in an RSS reader and seen in succession after legit stories, or c) it doesn’t say “CAUTION: THIS IS A FAKE PAPER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” anywhere on the site. It happens. If The Onion’s doing its job right, its stories are inherently ridiculous, but not completely out of the realm of possibility; satire, after all, is grounded in some truth,” wrote Steve Heisler with the website.