A conservative news outlet spliced together a “satirical” interview with Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, published it on Facebook without noting it was satire, and racked up over a million views in less than 24 hours — many from people who appear convinced it’s real. The video is fake, and for the people who are taking it seriously, it’s news. But it’s not “fake news,” and it shows just how confounding talking about misinformation has gotten.
Yesterday,Conservative Reviewnetwork CRTV posted a video that remixed out-of-context clips of a PBSFiring Lineinterview with Ocasio-Cortez, alternating them with staged questions from CRTV host Allie Stuckey. In the fake interview, Ocasio-Cortez sheepishly shakes her head when Stuckey asks if she understands anything about politics, and she appears to think Venezuela is in the Middle East. CRTV’s website describes the piece as a “satirical sit-down” with the candidate. But on Facebook, it just said that Stuckey had grilled Ocasio-Cortez about her “socialist agenda and knowledge of government… or lack thereof,” with a winking smile emoji at the end.
Some internet users will inevitably believe even the most obvious parody, especially when it plays to political sentiments. That’s how a Twitter jokester can accidentally convince high-profile Trump opponents that the president is obsessed with an imaginary “gorilla channel.” But the framing here is particularly clumsy, because Stuckey’s page (and CRTV in general) isn’t primarily satirical, though the channel has posted satirical videos before. A user who clicks through will see serious videos, including interviews, alongside the Ocasio-Cortez satire. And while the clips aren’t spliced all that realistically, it’s not clear that this is intentional. Without the disclaimer, it’s indistinguishable from an awkward attempt at smearing a political opponent.
In a larger sense, though, it’s not clear how much these definitions even matter. As mentioned earlier, Facebook doesn’t generally remove misinformation, and interviews with CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggest it’s committed to that position. It’s more concerned about accounts that aren’t “authentic,” especially those created by foreign agents to sow political dissent. The entire system of feed-scrolling on social media encourages people to casually consume media without checking its original context. And no force on Earth, including Facebook, can save us from the clutches of bad comedy.