Satire is usually meant to be funny. However, it often serves a greater purpose too, providing constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.
In the digital age, The Onion is probably the most prevalent satirical publisher—it produces articles on international, national, and local news. Even though The Onion ceased publishing its print edition in 2013, it has survived online where the company has been operating since the spring of 1996.
Occasionally, the serious, straight-faced manner in which The Onion "reports" on non-existent events, happenings, and ideas has resulted in people mistakenly thinking the stories are real news.
In fact, this started happening so often, it even gave birth to a subreddit, collecting screenshots of these gullible folks' reactions. Continue scrolling and check out some of the top posts of r/AteTheOnion, which currently has over 509K members and has started featuring reactions to satire created outside of The Onion too.
One of the moderators of the subreddit, TheCats_Bananas, thinks that satirical news is now as important as any other form of comedy. "News outlets have always favored tragic events over uplifting ones so in a way, I think satirical news helps people see the bright side. Or at the very least it makes them consider that there might be a bright side and not everything is as terrible as it is presented on the news," they told Bored Panda.
Robert "Bob" Mankoff, an American cartoonist who was the cartoon editor for The New Yorker for nearly twenty years, agrees with this statement. To justify mockery that is political satire, he goes back to Aristotle: "By holding bad behavior up to ridicule we might, as it were, 'laugh folly out of existence.' Syllogistically, a la Aristotle, it might be put something like this: 1) Politicians behaving badly will be mocked; 2) Politicians don't like to be mocked. 3) Politicians will stop behaving badly."
However, is that what really happens? Not really. But more than two millennia later, political folly is still as much with us despite the fact that political satire reaches more of the populace than ever before, as part of the entertainment industry. "There's now a veritable satiric-industrial complex. Furthermore, that populace is no longer just a passive recipient of Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Onion or an occasional New Yorker cover or cartoon, but is actively participating by blogging, Twittering and Facebooking their own material. Don't get me wrong, I like political satire and would like to think that it has some effect other than tweaking the mighty and getting laughs. But I think that would be confusing appearance with reality."
TheCats_Bananas believes there are two main reasons why people fall for fake political satire. "The first one [is] that people are used to seeing news on their feeds so when they see a satirical headline, they don't even consider that it might be satirical unless it's extremely farfetched, so they just comment on it without much of a second thought," they said. "The second reason is that in recent times, actual news headlines have gotten so unexpected and ridiculous that people have just accepted the fact that most of it is real so there's little reason to doubt anything anymore."
Their insights really make sense—I think r/AteTheOnion isn't laughing at the people in the pictures; it provides multilayered commentary on political communication and mass media. And that's why the subreddit is awesome.