On 20 August 2015, The Onion published an article titled “New SeaWorld Show Just Elephant Drowning in Large Tank of Water with No Explanation.” Referencing marine park franchise SeaWorld’s controversial reputation among animal lovers, the article read:
Noting that the show had simply appeared on the park’s schedule last week without an announcement or fanfare of any kind, visitors to SeaWorld told reporters that the theme park’s latest attraction consists solely of an elephant drowning in a large tank of water with no explanation.
The most recent addition to the amusement park’s slate of entertainment — listed on brochures and signs simply as “Elephant Drowning” — reportedly features an adult African elephant that is led out by trainers into the main amphitheater, where it is immediately shoved into a 36-foot-deep aquarium and left to slowly die, all without the music, lighting cues, or narration that typically accompany other SeaWorld shows.
Although social media is inundated with fake news ites spreading false claims to attract web site visitors, The Onion‘s efforts are typically recognized as originating from one of the few legitimately satirical sites on the internet (i.e., one that aims to entertain readers rather than trick them).
Every so often, a specific article from that site will gain an atypical amount of traction and be mistaken for real news. Prior to the flood of hoax news outlets, a now-popular blog was created specifically to highlight instances in which social media users failed to recognize articles from The Onion as satire rather than real news:
@SeaWorld is the drowning elephant story I'm seeing everywhere a legit thing? And if so, why would SeaWorld even contemplate doing that?
— emileeee. (@emileemaretta) August 20, 2015
While the drowning article appeared to be one of those instances (for unclear reasons), the premise was purely spoofing in nature.