One week after the inauguration of President Trump, something interesting happened. One of his first acts as President was to place a gag order on governmental agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency preventing it from issuing any press releases, blog posts, or social media posts. However, the National Parks Service’s (NPS) – not affiliated with the EPA – communication was not frozen. In fact, the NPS retweeted a series of tweets that were critical of the new administration’s burgeoning policies regarding civil rights, climate change, and health care reform as well as one retweet about the low turnout at Trump’s swearing-in ceremony. Later the NPS apologized for these retweets and removed them.
In response to perceived censorship, about a dozen alternative news accounts like Rogue NASA and Alternative NOAA were created. These accounts quickly became popular on Twitter. For example, the ‘alternative’ National Parks Service account gained 1.3 million followers within one week following the inauguration. Even sites like Rogue POTUS Staff, who claim to be “The unofficial resistance team inside the White House,” provide unverified social commentary. Many twitter users seem to accept at face value the claim that these accounts are run by silenced government employees. If the creators of the ‘alternative news’ NPS account initially set out to name their website alt-national-park-service.com, it is unlikely that their message would have reached as many people. Though some of these alternative social media accounts are actually run by government employees, the ‘Alternative’ National Park Service account was not created by an employee of the NPS. Later, the ‘alternative’ NPS account renamed itself NotAltWorld, deleted all of its previous tweets, but kept its large following base.
Unlike the alternative websites who purposely produce fake news, a number of traditional news organizations have been accused of perpetuating fake news by the current administration and others. As publishers are beginning to find their footing again following the these claims, many writers and journalists are using satire to cover some of the government’s more controversial policies. Through satire, a journalist is able to address a contentious or serious topic and make people laugh at the same time.
In a recent article I read from VOX, comedians are leading the way in using satire to cover the US government, “… while traditional journalists feel compelled to take President Trump’s often absurd statements and conspiracy theories seriously, political satirists have demonstrated an extremely low tolerance for bull***t.” For example, the reaction to President Trump’s America First rhetoric included a video that went viral. The Dutch satirical talk show “Zondag met Lubach” created a video requesting Trump to consider America first, but the Netherlands second. Others were quick to imitate the video asking their country to be considered second (or third, following the Netherlands).
Digital strategy expert Dr. Mario Garcia shares that readers are interested in both hard news and entertaining content. News media companies such as Quartz are successful because they take this lesson to heart. They report on important issues as well as publishing light-hearted content. The combination of serious and entertaining news is one reason people continuously return to social media. From a personal perspective, my own Facebook news feed contains a wide variety of content, such as TED videos that are both informative and entertaining, in-depth human interest stories from Narratively, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger voicing his political opinions.
Social media is the most popular way for readers to discover and consume hard news, light-hearted content, and even alternative news. Social media channels get this, and as Dr. Garcia points out, digital publishers should embrace this approach as well. Publishers who work with Crowdynews have found that by providing a social media stream on their website, they can augment content with both types of news (serious & silly) alongside their articles. The social media stream keeps readers engaged, prolonging time-on-site, decreasing bounce rates, and even increasing conversion.
Contact Crowdynews at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with someone about including a social media stream on your website.