Fact Check

Did Canada Plant a 'Privacy Hedge' Along the U.S. Border?

Readers misinterpreted as news a spoof political story that was clearly intended to be satirical in nature.

Published Jan 20, 2017

Image Via Karamysh/Shutterstock
Canadian officials planted a "privacy hedge" along that country's border with the U.S.

Perhaps owing to a sense of trepidation about the upcoming change in presidential administrations, multiple readers contacted us asking whether The Out and Abouter's 18 January 2017 article about a "privacy hedge" along the Canada-U.S. border was a genuine news story:

“And we’re happy to pay for it,” say a united front of Canadian premiers, national leaders, mayors, citizens, and casual acquaintances, of the newly planted hedge that has sprung up seemingly overnight, running unbroken for 6,416 kilometers, along the world’s longest undefended border.

“Sometimes the best way for neighbours to get along, is a little bit of privacy. Even in the winter. Even when you have to break frozen ground to get it. Even when your neighbour has spy satellites and a penchant for caching electronic communications. Even then, a hedge can’t hurt.”

The article's obvious reference to new U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and its tongue-in-cheek nod to vaunted Canadian politeness, clearly identified it as a work of satire — as did the display of the terms "SATIRE, COMMENTARY, SATIRICAL COMMENTARY" in the The Out and Abouter's masthead.

The site published a post in November 2016 stating that they would be taking steps to avoid being confused for purveyors of fake news:

While I haven’t set out to mislead people, and have purposely attempted to make my stories ludicrous enough to be both humourous and completely unbelievable, a combination of factors have, at times, led to some readers mistaking the stories on this site for truth. And really, in a world where time constraints and media overload have encouraged many to become skim-readers, and in which satire has officially surrendered to reality in the contest of which can be more bizarre, perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I think of these stories as a form of written cartoon. I can’t draw, not even poorly enough to be good, and so I write these pieces. The trouble is, unlike a political cartoon, which broadcasts its satirical roots by its appearance, these articles can easily be mistaken for news. The layout I chose for the web page is a broadsheet, or in other words it was intended as a template for a news site. I did that to try to frame the absurd as hilariously near to the truth, but it strikes me now that this crossed over into masquerade. The same is true of my many Facebook posts, which look exactly like those made by reputable news sources, about actual events.

Moving forward, what I intend to do about this ambiguity, is remove it. From here onward all posts that are satirical, or in anyway reference fictional events, will make this clear. There will be disclaimers both on the blog itself, and in Facebook posts and tweets about it. I know Facebook is working on ways to weed out, or signify fake news, and I think this is very much needed. I’ll be following developments to see if there will be a way to self-identify posts as satirical, such as a large banner shouting that in capital letters with multiple exclamation marks.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.

Article Tags