Internet discourse is becoming unreal: I can't tell a Poe from an idiot any more

A fascinating phenomenon on the internet is the sophisticated illusions being spun to satirise opposing positions.

Trigger alert: the following may be offensive to those with deeply held religious beliefs.

It started with sites like the Onion, which present dead-pan satire. Brief consideration reveals the Onion as fake to all but the most credulous (or just plain thick). Yet the Onion has sucked in credulous news organisations in countries like Iran, North Korea, Trinidad, and the USA.

The internet has moved on to more sophisticated mockery where the satire is harder to detect. There are so many anti-conspiracies, reverse trolls, and "Poes" (named after Nathan Poe not Edgar Allen), that it is indeed getting hard to tell. These people are performing a reductio ad absurdum: taking someone's ideas to their absurd logical extreme.

The problem is that the internet is so deluded, so ignorant, so stupid, that it is becoming hard to spot the Poes any more.

Alan's 2nd Law of Newsgroups: Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.

As Skeptic magazine said:

How can you create a parody of people who seriously believe that the earth is the center of the universe, from the extremist Catholics who run the site and hold geocentrism conventions, to the recent YouTube video from a Muslim cleric declaring the sun goes around the earth?

There are some fabulous Poes:

Got any more good ones? Comment below.

It becomes particularly hard to tell them apart in comments on places like Facebook, where a brief remark could be straight-faced tin-hat wearing lunacy or it could be a Poe. And the Poes don't stop. They'll stay in character for a long thread, watching the sane people slowly lose their sanity trying to debate the Poe.

The internet challenges all our methods of telling what is "real", in so many ways. "Live" in Second Life or the Sims for a while. Or try to spot Poes

It is a fascinating phenomenon which will shape our future ideas on discourse and thinking.

“Satire doesn't stand a chance against reality anymore.”
― Jules Feiffer

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