The Onion’s Twitter stream suffered from an expected spate of unpopularity today, which was unexpected even considering its eponymous etiology. The cause of the stink? The strong-arming of Washington, D.C. police into investigating successive “Breaking News” tweets made by the satirical newspaper. The tweets, hashtagged #CongressHostage, asserted that members of Congress were demanding $12 trillion in exchange for the return to safety of 12 schoolchildren they had taken hostage. Many found the satire to be lacking good literary form and, more generally, thought the joke to be unfunny.
People wondered if The Onion’s Twitter account had been hacked and some living in the District of Columbia even called the police to inquire about the tweeting commotion. The men (and women) in blue issued a formal statement to reassure the public that the tweeted assertions were false and that an investigation into the postings had been started.
The gem that started the ruckus was: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.” “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen #CongressHostage,” quickly followed it.
The reaction of @MrMcLeez was quoted in The Washington Post: “I work at the Capitol and I just yelled at my coworkers that there was gunfire… you scared the [expletive] out of me #fakenewsscares.”
Commentators cut the folks in the District much slack for their humorless reactions given that that the less aggressively satirical news outlets had been reporting about the apprehension of man suspected of planning an attack on the Pentagon and Capitol with explosives-carrying remote-controlled airplanes.