Earlier this morning, the Onion tweeted: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.” Since the Onion is, of course, a satirical paper and not a breaking news site, many people assumed that perhaps the account had been hacked by Anonymous or another such group. But nope. The next tweet pointed to an Onion article with the premise that Congress had taken a group of schoolchildren hostage.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who has emerged as spokesman for the bipartisan group, informed FBI negotiators that the legislative body’s demands would be issued within the next hour, and that if any attempt is made to stage a rescue “all the kids will die.”
It’s obviously a satire of Congress’s less-than-mature negotiating tactics during the ongoing budget debates. But the Onion’s tweets continued — and rather than emphasize the absurd aspects of the parody, they continued to use a scary breaking-news tone.
The Capitol Hill police, at least, weren’t laughing. They quickly released a statement assuring the public that conditions at the Capitol were normal. The Onion, for its part, told the Washington Post with a shrug, “This is satire. That’s how it works.” But it seems apparent they’re interested in doing something a little more performative than usual: The satire seems to be of Twitter and the way news breaks and spreads nowadays, just as much as it of Congress.