The way the internet -- heck, the world -- works nowadays, sarcasm and satire are sometimes hard to detect. When you see an article from a comedy publication like “The Onion” and you accept it as real news, you’ve just experienced Poe’s Law.
It doesn’t have anything to do with horror writer Edgar Allen but instead stems from a comment written by Nathan Poe in 2005, and applies specifically to the internet. Poe’s Law states that “without a clear indicator of the author's intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied." This basically means that if you see something sooooo ridiculous online, sometimes it’s hard to separate truth from fiction.
It’s often hard to distinguish the ridiculous from the real, which is why it’s a common joke is that social media should have a sarcasm font. There isn't enough context (nor or are there enough characters) to tell if someone is making fun of something by presenting an extreme view that’s totally absurd or if they really have beliefs (and are making presenting them for click-throughs).
It’s not just the average social media user either. Debunking website Snopes came under fire for using satirical websites as a source when fact-checking statements. Facebook and Google News have even go so far as to label articles as satire to avoid confusion.
Then there are confusing media personalities like Stephen Colbert. Many didn't realize that Comedy Central's “The Colbert Report” was satire.
Miranda Sings is an internet warbler always complaining about her “haters." In reality, Sings is the alter ego of Colleen Ballinger, fresh off of a successful Broadway run in the musical “Waitress." Ballinger can actually sing, but Sings (stay with me) regularly gets hate-filled messages on Yotube criticizing her crooning abilities. Not everyone realizes the broad attempt at humor here. When you need to explain something is a joke, doesn't it lose its humor?
This phenomenon is not new or really exclusive to the internet, either. In 1729, Jonathan Swift published an essay suggesting poor families should sell their babies as food as a response to government attitudes towards the poor. Naturally the essay faced backlash; several strongly worded missives were written by members of the British aristocracy, to whom it was aimed. Could you imagine what Swift would have come up with if he had a Twitter account?
As to what to do about moderating our own internal BS detectors, it is unclear how to sniff out the real from the fake when just about everything seems absurd. All you can do is hone your critical eye, understand the source providing you with the info, and hope that people really haven’t gone that mad. But now you know, when something seems to crazy to be true, Poe’s Law is probably -- hopefully -- in effect.