British Columbia

Facebook's tirade against fake news could hurt satire, says Vancouver writer

A humourous story written by Vancouver satirist John Egan chronicled the Obama family's plan to move to Canada should Trump win the election — but many readers missed the point.

Story written by Vancouver satirist John Egan went viral during the U.S. election — but many missed the point

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote address at Facebook F8 in San Francisco, California March 25, 2015. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

When Donald Trump became the Republican Party's official presidential nominee last July, Vancouver satirist John Egan started putting pen to paper.

He wrote an article outlining Obama's plan to move his family to Canada should Trump take office. The piece — originally published under The Burrard Street Journal — soon became election fodder.

"I noticed that a bunch of these conservative blogs in the U.S. had actually just reprinted my article word for word without any kind of disclaimer saying that it was satire or saying it was a joke," he told stand-in host Gregor Craigie on CBC's BC Almanac.

The piece was picked up by dozens of fake news websites — and it was one of many bogus stories flooding social media channels on election night.

And while Egan commends Facebook's recent plan to tackle the proliferation of fake news, he hopes satire won't get caught up in the mix.

Saving satire

Egan is currently involved in his own battle against fake news sites that unapologetically ran with his material. He's filed over 50 notices of copyright infringement — but says many sites still display the article.

"I was pretty annoyed with it because people were stealing my hard work and profiting from it. And not telling people it was a joke, and creating such a massive storm."

He says at one point, representatives from the White House even had to debunk the rumour that Obama was moving north.

Egan admits the whole experience has been frustrating and he commends Facebook's recent announcement to filter out fake news.

Last week, the social media giant outlined plans to instil third-party fact checkers and make it easier for users to report fake news when they see it.

The move came after concerns that fake news circulating on social media could have possibly swayed the U.S. election results.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

But Egan is worried satirical content will also take a hit.

"I'm afraid that satire will get caught up in that, because it is really hard to differentiate between the two," he said.

From programs like the Daily Show to websites like the Onion, Egan says satire has long provided audiences with unique social commentary that pokes fun at our culture while simultaneously raising awareness about hot-button issues.

He thinks it's important for audiences to be diligent and take control over the content it consumes — rather than lose it all together.

"Research everything, question everything you read — even what you read from more traditional news media. That's really the only way we can tackle it, because banning certain types of news — that raises all sorts of questions about freedom of speech."

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Facebook's tirade against fake news could threaten satire, says Vancouver writer