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Reporting: The news outlets that can't handle the spoof

  • @gillian_orr

Who gets your vote for sexiest man alive? Ryan Gosling? Johnny Depp? What about George Clooney? Well, The Onion went with the less chiselled, but more powerful, Kim Jong Un, dictator of North Korea. "Kim made this newspaper's editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, that famous smile," read the article.

Of course, The Onion is a satirical online news organisation operating out of Chicago, but that didn't stop a couple of media outlets reporting the story as fact. China's People's Daily and South Korea's The Korea Times were both duped.

It's not the first time the world's media has been taken in by the parody website. In September, Iran's Fars News Agency copied a story from The Onion reporting that a poll concluded that rural white America preferred President Ahmadinejad to Obama. In 2009, a Russian news site repackaged clips from a video piece on The Onion called "New anti-smoking ad warns teens 'It's gay to smoke'" and reported it as legitimate news.

But it's not just the language barrier that encourages organisations to fall for the tongue-in-cheek site; American organisations have also been fooled. In 2010, The Fox Nation website presented as fact The Onion's story about Obama writing a 75,000-word email about America's political culture.

Best of all, however, is the website Literally Unbelievable which collects Facebook updates from people who post stories from The Onion, such as "Justin Bieber found to be cleverly disguised 51-year-old paedophile", and have taken them a little bit too seriously.