In May 2021, social media users shared a tweet appearing to indicate that Pope Francis had introduced a dramatic new rule for hundreds of millions of Catholics throughout the world — vaccination against COVID-19 would be needed in order to get into heaven.
On May 22, Twitter user @Lifesgood0067 posted what looked like a screenshot of an article with the headline “Pope Francis Says Covid Vaccine Will Now Be Required to Enter Heaven.” In a clear sign they believed the headline, and underlying article, to be authentic, they added “This just tops the bullshit pile. Are we awake yet?” Other social media users responded to the screenshot in a way that clearly demonstrated they, too, believed it showed an authentic news article.
However, the headline and story were in fact fake, and had been stripped away from their original context, The Babylon Bee, a website that describes its output as satirical.
The Babylon Bee published the original article in November 2020. Anyone viewing it on that website in late 2020 or early 2021 would have also been presented with a newsletter sign-up invitation that included the phrase “Fake news you can trust, straight to your inbox” — a clue as to the humorous intentions behind the report.
Outside that context, though, some readers unfamiliar with the style and appearance of The Babylon Bee’s content evidently mistook the headline about Pope Francis for an authentic news story — a good illustration of how the humorous or satirical intentions behind an internet post can be obvious to some readers, but not to others.
For background, here is why we sometimes write about satire/humor.