Onion issues statement about satirical tweet

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The Onion, a satirical news organization, caused a stir Thursday when it tweeted Congress was holding 12 schoolchildren hostage and demanding $12 trillion in ransom.

Some readers thought the tweets were true, others thought The Onion’s Twitter account had been hacked and the rest knew the truth – it was all a joke.

But U.S. Capitol Police took the initial claim seriously, releasing a statement that said, “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 of the twitter feeds.”

The first tweet of the scam, which was printed as a story on the front page of The Onion’s newspaper edition, gave no indication of a joke. It read, “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside the capitol building.”

The tweets went out to The Onion’s more than three million followers. The Onion then further developed the story with tweets marked by the hashtag #CongressHostage, and later linked to a satiric story describing the supposed situation.

Although The Onion declined an interview, the editor, Joe Randazzo, issued a statement to the press saying, “We at the Onion feel it would be irresponsible to comment on such irresponsible reporting, nor will we succumb to unfounded sensationalism until all the facts have been thoroughly obscured.”

The humorous reports produced by The Onion are protected by the constitution under the First Amendment, which grants freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

“If there’s a lesson that can be learned from all of this, it is that the First Amendment in the wrong journalists’ hands is a very dangerous thing,” Randazzo said.

Randazzo concluded the statement with an Onion-typical piece of sarcasm.

“We will continue to report on this incident, as well as the hundreds of more despicable acts Congress commits every day,” he said.

Joe Riepenhoff, a first year Marquette law student, said The Onion is obviously satirical in nature.

“You would have to be pretty aloof to think The Onion is real,” Riepenhoff said.

Herbert Lowe, journalism professional-in-residence, said he emphasizes how to responsibly use social media as a journalist in his classes. He said while people understand that The Onion site provides satire, that tone combined with immediacy and emergency might mean that satire can be lost in translation.

“This Twitter scam was clearly an ill-advised attempt to use social media,” Lowe said.

He wondered whether The Onion considered the repercussions of its stunt before putting it into action, and said people, including students, should be careful to think before they post something online.

“I want students to remember to think before they act, think before they write and especially think before hitting the send button,” Lowe said.

Tanya Carran, a senior in the College of Nursing, said that’s a sentiment she always adheres to.

“In the heat of the moment you may want to post something,” Carran said. “But in getting ready to search for jobs, you need to be really careful about what you put online.”

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